Voters have endorsed a proposed law to make it illegal to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation. A challenge by conservatives clearly failed at the ballot box.
Final results from Sunday's ballot show 63.1% of voters came out in favour of extending current anti-racism legislation.
Opposition came mainly from rural areas in central and eastern Switzerland. The highest approval rates were recorded in French- and Italian-speaking regions and urban areas.
For details see map below.
Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter said the legal amendment merely confirmed a clause in the country's constitution.
So far, only discrimination because of race, religion or ethnic group was specifically mentioned in Swiss law.
Keller-Sutter sought to dismiss concerns by opponents that the law would restrict free speech.
"Nobody has to fear anything if they remain respectful," she told a news conference. She added she was confident that courts would not be flooded with new cases.
However, people who publicly incite hatred or discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation would face a legal procedure.
Opponents, who forced the referendum, admitted defeat early in the day but vowed to fight against further amendments for other social minorities.
"We will keep a close eye on the implementation of the law and want to make sure that the freedom of expression remains guaranteed," David Trachsel of the referendum committee told public television, SRF.
Campaigners from the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) community described the result as a "clear signal against hatred".
They said they will continue to their political fight for same-sex marriage due to be discussed in parliament next month.
The reform was approved by parliament in 2018. But a small ultra-conservative religious group, the Federal Democratic UnionExternal link, supported by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, then collected enough signatures to force a nationwide ballot.
Opponents argued that the law undermines the right to free speech, and that the homosexual and bisexual community doesn’t need special legal protection. Current legislation is enough to prevent insults, slander and other forms of violence or ill-treatment, they say.
Supporters – a clear majority in parliament, most political parties and the government – called for the reform following a 2010 Supreme Court ruling which found that homosexual groups lack the sufficient legal means to fight against discrimination.
They also pointed out that other countries in Europe have included homophobia in their criminal codes and that the legal loophole in Switzerland has drawn criticism from international rights groups.
According to the Rainbow Map of 49 countries' respect LGBT rightsExternal link, Switzerland currently ranks just 28th.
In a nationwide referendum in 1994, about 55% of voters endorsed the original anti-racism law against opposition by a small far-right party together with a conservative group fighting for cantonal autonomy.
Ahead of EU immigration vote
The campaign ahead of Sunday’s vote began about a month ago and remained comparatively low-key.
Pollsters found that a strong majority of citizens agree that tolerance towards minorities is deeply rooted in Swiss society.
Turnout of just under 42% was below average in the first set of nationwide votes following last October’s parliamentary elections.
It is expected that the next vote in May about a right-wing proposal to scrap an accord with the European Union about immigration will attract more voters.
Social housing initiative: 42.9% yes 57.1% no
Anti-LGB discrimination: 63.1% yes 36.9% no
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