Switzerland Passes Marriage Equality Over Bishops’ Objections on “Rights of Children”

Federal legislators in Switzerland legalized marriage equality despite opposition from the Catholic bishops, and also approved changes to ease government record changes for transgender and intersex people.

In December, the Swiss Federal Assembly legalized equal marriage rights after seven years of debate on the issue, having previously offered only registered partnerships for same-gender couples, according to The Advocate. But weeks before the vote, the nation’s Catholic bishops issued a statement against the measure. Crux reported that the episcopal conference acknowledged there were issues of discrimination still facing same-gender couples, but:

“Marriage, including civil marriage, ‘is not only a public recognition of mutual feelings,’ but is designed to ensure that children are born into a stable institution with a mother and a father they know, the bishops said in a statement Dec. 4.

“While the bishops’ conference supports ‘the search for a solution that takes into account the justified requests of LGBT+ people to have recognized their right to equality as regards matters of citizenship and social services,’ the bishops said the solution must ‘respect the rights of the child.’

“‘Civil marriage is regulated for the foundation of the family,’ the statement said. ‘However, to achieve this goal, same-sex couples must resort to medically assisted procreation. The Swiss bishops’ conference is generally opposed to its use — even for heterosexual couples — because medically assisted procreation involving a donation of gametes, is contrary to the rights of the child’ to know and be loved by both biological parents.’

“The Swiss bishops do not oppose an effort ‘to eradicate all forms of discrimination,’ particularly by simplifying the citizenship process for a person in a stable relationship with a Swiss citizen and ensuring inheritance rights, the statement said, but ethical questions related to adoption, surrogacy and medically assisted procreation cannot be ignored.”

The position of the Swiss bishops is not uniform, however. Back in 2019, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Basel made the reverse argument that the marriage equality bill proposed at that time was welcomed, both because it gives “stable and reliable legal cover” to same-gender couples and provides “a legal framework that serves the best interests” for the children of such couples. While advocating for sacramental and civil marriages to remain separate, Bishop Felix Gmür has called for the church to find more meaningful ways to engage LGBTQ couples.

More broadly, many Swiss Catholics have been longtime advocates for equal marriage rights. In 2019, Franziska Driessen-Reding who heads the Canton of Zurich’s Synodal Council said that her local church did not oppose the measure. The Swiss Catholic Women’s Federation reiterated its support for marriage equality that year, a position the women’s group has held since 2001.

In addition to marriage equality, The Advocate reported on Federal Assembly members’ approval of a law “that will allow trans and intersex people in Switzerland to change their legal name and gender marker by simply making a declaration at a government office.” This law removes the involvement of the courts in such changes.

Opponents of marriage equality, led by the right wing Federal Democratic Union party, are planning to demand a referendum on the new law, though the Catholic bishops have remained silent about their stance on such a move. But it would be imprudent for the bishops to join such efforts. Polling suggests that marriage equality will almost assuredly survive any referendum, if one even happens at all. Rather than opposing settled law in vain, the bishops could instead examine how they could proactively work to stop anti-LGBTQ discrimination, which they have stated their opposition to already. At the very least, they should abandon the tenuous argument that opposing marriage equality is really about a concern for children and reproductive ethics.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 7, 2021

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