Switzerland voted in a Sunday referendum in favor of an amendment adding sexual orientation to the list of characteristics protected under its anti-discrimination laws.
Switzerland had differed from many other Western European nations with its lack of a law specifically protecting lesbians, bisexuals and gay men from discrimination. Over the weekend, about 63.1 percent voted in favor of such a measure, The New York Times reported.
“In Switzerland, it’s possible to publicly say, for instance, ‘Burn the gay’ or ‘Lesbians must be raped’ without any concern,” Caroline Dayer, a Geneva-based expert and researcher on preventing violence and discrimination, told the newspaper before the vote.
Under the amended law, public homophobic comments or discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public venues could be punishable by up to three years in prison, according to the Times, and also includes comments on social media and television. The measure was an amendment to a 2018 law with similar provisions for discrimination based on race, religion or ethnicity.
The initial language of the referendum included protections for trans people before Swiss lawmakers rejected the provision as too vague, the Times reported.
A committee opposed to the referendum claimed it was a free speech issue, although proponents of the amendment have noted that it would not apply to private conversations.
The country was ranked 27th of 49 European nations on LGBTQ rights in a 2019 International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association report, which also gave it a score of 29 out of a possible 100. In contrast, France scored 63, Britain scored 67 and Germany scored 47.
“The situation is mediocre for LGBTQ rights in Switzerland,” Muriel Waeger, the co-director of “Against Discriminations, Yes,” a committee that pushed for the referendum, told the newspaper.