An opinion piece on the Swiss federal vote on the “marriage for all”
By Tobias Drilling (he/they)
What a result! Switzerland voted in favour of marriage for all! I was celebrating the day amidst Lausanne’s beautiful ballroom scene. People voguing, dancing, catwalking, cheering enthusiastically, and everyone dressed in incredibly creative outfits (whomever saw the Netflix series Pose knows what I am talking about). When the “marriage” category started, asking participants to strut the runway with their own ideas of a queer wedding, I was close to tears of joy: people of no matter what gender walking together and showing their beautiful wedding gowns – a show that is about to become reality.
On these days, I am eternally thankful to all the wonderful queer Swiss activists and campaigners that never hesitate to take up battles and who made this result happen – may it be in political discussions on TV, by protesting in the streets, or sharing their lived experiences on social media. And let’s not forget: everyone that was engaging in debates with their peers, educating friends on the vote and convincing their families to vote in favour of marriage for all.
I have asked one of the committee members how he feels after the result: “Leading this campaign was an intense and emotional experience for me. I am still incredibly touched and grateful for the huge engagement of our community. The verbal attacks from our opponents have left a bitter taste and they were not easy to handle for us, or our friends and families. I am extremely happy about the result. It’s not just a yes, it’s a clear signal to same-sex loving people: Our love is right and equal!” (Jan Müller he/him, member of the board of the National Committee Marriage For All).
So, what changes now with the introduction of marriage for all, including same-sex couples (compared to the registered partnership)? A married couple will have access to the process of naturalisation, the adoption of children as well as access to reproductive medicine. The legal function of the marriage thus opening up to more couples: “It should go without saying: no one should be deprived of unionship because of whom they choose to love. This is an inalienable right.” (Delcia Orona, she/they, President of the Queer International Student Assembly QISA).
The vote was about rights, equality, and inclusivity. It was about enabling queer couples’ access to a catalogue of rights and their possibility to start a family. It was about giving a choice. Because for many the concept of marriage might not be adequate in our current times of relationship anarchy. It might be time to question concepts such as monogamy. Time to break the norms created to reproduce and protect the hegemonial heterosexual paradigm. And think some steps further. Yet even if queer people don’t want to get married, they should very much be allowed to decide against doing that, like everyone else!
Jan Müller emphasizes, that “the introduction of the same-sex marriage in Switzerland is an important step into the right direction. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of work to do until all members of the LGBTQIA+ community can feel accepted and safe in Switzerland”. Here are a few of these important aspects to tackle: transgender rights especially regarding the access to health care, the persecution of hate crimes, the protection of queer sex workers, the legal inclusion of genders beyond the binary, generally reducing prejudices and awareness raising work, and many more. These very grounding discussions were missing in the public debate over the last months. With the media’s interest in controversy, discussions were often unproductive and staged/dramatized for a public that normally binge watches Love Island. This, on the positive note, allowed a broad part of the Swiss population to position themselves vis-a-vis marriage for all; but on another note, for many people identifying as LGBTQIA+ and their allies, these debates were sometimes difficult to endure.
Having to always justify oneself following the conservative discussions sparked by religious metaphors can be harmful to members of our community. We need to protect ourselves and choose our fights carefully. We do not have an unlimited source of energy. Finding oneself constantly between tokenism and lack of knowledge affects our mental health on a daily basis, making spaces for recreation and celebration ever more necessary.
Therefore, I want to end my article with some of the beautiful moments where queer people and allies had the chance to grow together, as well as the good moments that were brought to me thanks to the vote on marriage for all.
One such moment surely was the Geneva Pride 2021 with about 25’000 to 30’000 participants. People, irrespectively of sexual orientation or gender identity, took over my city in glitter and rainbows: “This year’s pride was a success, since it acted as a catalyst for mobilization right before the same-sex marriage referendum.“ (Thibaud Mabut, he/him, media activist from Geneva). Another powerful moment was watching the live stream of the first August 1st speech given by a non-binary person in some tiny town in the Rote Fabrik Zurich before dancing all night long.
Likewise, participating at the yearly queer festival in Zürich (Lila) has personally charged my queer batteries for the next months with beautiful memories and strength to take on the next fights.
For me, being queer means having wonderful friendships where we share our emotions and many aspects of life, sharing passions that we stand up for, as well as sharing the love for dancing through endless nights all sweaty and glittery in our perfectly crazy outfits.
The time leading up to the vote has brought me many long and deep conversations and gave some of my friends the power to come out to their families. There have been moments of goosebumps, of hope, and of thirst for action. The vote was once again a chance for us to unite as a community alongside our allies. Afterall, we always leave these fights strengthened.
The result of the referendum will have a concrete and beautiful impact on the life of those queers that have wished to get married for a long time. More broadly, it will definitely have a symbolic impact on all people identifying as LGBTQIA+ in Switzerland. Whether we decide that marriage is for us or not, we all deserve the right to make this decision ourselves. With this vote, we showed that we can counter symbol politics with politics of reason, compassion, respect, and love.
Who Runs the World? Queers!
Tobias Drilling (he/they), Master Student in Development Studies IHEID
Photo by Dorra Sayary (she/her)