After Swiss voters overwhelmingly backed same-sex marriage in a referendum on Sunday, LGBT groups in the country celebrated a “historic day” for Switzerland.
But the Swiss vote also marks a turning point for LGBT rights in Europe: all of Western Europe, except Italy, now allows gay and lesbian couples to marry.
Meanwhile, in central and eastern Europe, marriage equality continues to face fierce opposition. In many countries, including Poland and Hungary, it is even subject to a constitutional ban.
“The Swiss vote is truly a great achievement. It has been a very long process after the tireless efforts of activists over the years and it is amazing to see how clear the vote was. And of course, that vote also resonates more. beyond borders, “said Katrin Hugendubel, advocacy director for ILGA-Europe, an LGBT rights group.
“Of course, we hope that there will be movement in other countries because it is not only that the institution of marriage is open to all, but because it is a symbol of full equality and recognition of love between people of the same sex and same-sex couples. Hugendubel continued.
Has the Swiss vote opened a new “iron curtain” when it comes to LGBT rights in Europe and how much can it influence legislative developments across the continent?
Euronews explores the European implications of the historic Swiss vote for marriage equality.
What is the position of European countries on same-sex marriage?
Same-sex marriage was first approved in Europe in the Netherlands 20 years ago.
Since then, 17 countries have followed suit, including Belgium (2003), Spain (2005), Norway (2009), Sweden (2009), Portugal (2010), Iceland (2010), Denmark (2012), France (2013) , the United States. United Kingdom (2013), Luxembourg (2015), Ireland (2015), Finland (2017), Malta (2017), Germany (2017) and Austria (2019).
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank, at least 10 Central and Eastern European countries impose a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
In the case of Croatia, the constitutional ban was voted on by referendum in 2013, although the country’s parliament allowed civil associations a year later.
Estonia also allows civil unions, while the Czech Republic and Hungary recognize same-sex unions.
Even if the European Union does not require member countries to legalize same-sex marriage, the EU’s highest court said in a 2018 ruling that the rights of same-sex couples to freedom of movement and freedom of movement must be respected. home.
In 2015, the European Parliament in a report it encouraged the EU and its member states to “reflect on the recognition of same-sex marriage or civil union between people of the same sex as a political, social, and human and civil rights issue.” But family laws remain the prerogative of the EU countries.
Will the Swiss vote influence Italy, the only Western European country that still outlaws same-sex marriage?
Italy is now the only large Western European country where same-sex marriage is not legal, even if civil unions were introduced in 2016.
Francesco Giubilei, writer and president of the conservative Tatarella Foundation, told Euronews that the Swiss vote is unlikely to affect Italian law at least in the short term.
“The problem is that this type of law, in the media and in the political debate, can be very divisive in Italy. There are some sectors of society that are in favor of a new law for homosexual marriage. But there are also another strong part of society that is against this type of law, “the Italian expert told Euronews.
“There is still a strong power of the Catholic Church in our country,” he explained, “although it is not as much as in the past.”
Another problem, he said, is “timing.”
“Currently, the public debate in our country is really focused on COVID-19 and how to spend the money from the EU recovery funds, as well as the election of the president of the republic next year. So I don’t see an opportunity to discuss this type of law, “Giubilei told Euronews.
In contrast, Hugendubel told Euronews that the Swiss vote could have an “echo” in Italy, considering that “the two countries share a border. They also share, to some extent, a language.”
“But I think, more importantly, we need to see that there is a majority of public opinion in Italy that really says that LGBTQ people should have the same rights. And that should be the real signal for politicians in Italy.”
According to a 2017 Pew Research Center Survey, about 6 in 10 Italians support same-sex marriage.
At the moment in Italy a legislation against discrimination, including sexual orientation and gender identity, is being debated, which must advance very quickly to open the way to the next steps, also to guarantee equality in marriage in Italy, Hugendubel said.
The so-called “Zan bill”, which aims to protect LGBT + people, women and the disabled from violence and discrimination, was approved by deputies last November. But he has been stuck in the Senate for months amid controversy.
Has the Swiss vote opened a new ‘iron curtain’ for LGBT rights in Europe?
In recent years, several Eastern European countries, notably Hungary and Poland, have been at odds with the European Union over LGBT rights issues.
Hungary recently passed laws that de facto prohibit adoption for same-sex couples and prohibit the distribution to minors of any content deemed to promote homosexuality or transgender.
The European Commission has taken legal action, arguing that Hungarian law goes against various EU laws and principles.
And in Poland, the EU withheld subsidies to several Polish cities that had adopted so-called “LGBTI-free zones” or had signed discriminatory “family rights” decrees. Many of these regions have backtracked on their statements.
When asked if Europe is seeing a new ‘iron curtain’ when it comes to LGBT rights, Hugendubel was skeptical.
“I think, in general, we have to be careful in drawing those clear lines because the picture is always much more complex,” the activist told Euronews.
“Of course, it is true that progress, especially in marriage equality, has been faster in the so-called West and that unfortunately some Eastern European countries even explicitly define marriage as a union between women and men in the constitution and, therefore, they block an update of the civil union and the registry to the equal marriage “.
“We are fully aware of these problems, but we must not fall into the trap of thinking that equality has been achieved in the West,” he insisted.
“If we look at, for example, the increase in hate crimes, it is unfortunately a reality in our region. We see it in the UK, we see it in Belgium, we see it in France,” Hugendubel said.
“Some countries in the Balkans explicitly protect intersex people, which some Western European countries, such as Germany or France, still do not.”
“For example, we still do not have adoption rights for same-sex couples in Germany.”
“So there are many peculiarities in which countries can learn from each other and where each country still has to do its homework on the path to equality for LGBT people.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism