Switzerland votes to ban homophobic discrimination

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The change was first passed by Swiss parliament in 2018, but it was forced to a referendum after critics said it would stifle free speech. (Reuters/D. Balibouse)

Switzerland voted on Sunday to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The country's referendum-based direct democracy takes many divisive issues to the populace if enough people demand it.

Sunday's referendum decided on legislation that specifically outlawed hate speech and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation with jail terms of up to three years. The criminal code currently covers discrimination based on race, ethnicity and religion.

About 62% of voters favored the legislation, with most parties backing the amendment to protect the gay, lesbian and bisexual community. However, the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) — the strongest party in parliament — opposed the law.

The SVP argued that migrants have imported homophobic views and that social dialogue and expulsion of foreign perpetrators would be more effective.

The change was first passed by Swiss parliament in 2018, but it was forced to a referendum after critics said it would stifle free speech.

What do the parties say about it?

SVP lawmaker Eric Bertinat told the Agence France-Presse news agency that he believed the law was "part of an LGBT plan to slowly move towards same-sex marriage and medically assisted reproduction" for gay couples.

Marc Frueh, head of the Federal Democratic Union of Switzerland (EDU), a small Christian party called it a "censorship law."

"This is a historic day," Mathias Reynard, a lawmaker from the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland who initiated the reform, told Swiss channel RTS 1.

"It gives a signal which is magnificent for everyone and for anyone who has been a victim of discrimination," he said.

Green, left-leaning and centrist parties support the law.

What does the law cover?

It outlaws: Publicly denigrating or discriminating against someone for being gay.
Inciting hatred against a gay person in text, speech, images or gestures.
Operators of restaurants, cinemas and public facilities such as swimming pools discriminating based on sexual orientation.

It does not outlaw: Homophobic comments made in a family setting or among friends.
Discrimination based on gender identity including transgender people.
Public debate on discrimination.
Jokes about gay people.