Voters in Switzerland have strongly backed a new law against homophobia in a referendum, according to partial results.
The country, unlike many of its western European neighbours, does not yet have laws that specifically protect lesbians, gays and bisexuals from discrimination.
Preliminary figures on Sunday showed 60.5 percent voted in favour of widening existing laws against discrimination of incitement to hatred on ethnic or religious grounds to include sexual orientation.
“This is a historic day,” Mathias Reynard, a politician from the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland who initiated the reform, told Swiss channel RTS 1.
“It gives a signal which is magnificent for everyone and for anyone who has been a victim of discrimination,” he said.
With results in from 23 out of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, the preliminary figures showed that the highest approval rate was in Geneva with 76.3 percent and that the rural cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden, Schwyz and Uri had voted against.
The change was passed by the parliament in 2018 but critics, who believe it will end up censoring free speech, had obtained the 50,000 signatures necessary under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy to put to the matter to a vote.
All of Switzerland’s major parties except the populist right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the biggest political force in parliament, support the law.
Hans Moser, head of the small Federal Democratic Union of Switzerland (EDU) party, told the ATS news agency: “We will continue to represent Christian values.”
Under the new law, homophobic comments made in a family setting or among friends would not be criminalised.
But publicly denigrating or discriminating against someone for being gay or inciting hatred against that person in text, speech, images or gestures, would be banned.
The government has said it will still be possible to have opinionated debates on issues such as same-sex marriage, and the new law does not ban jokes – however off-colour.
“Incitement to hatred needs to reach a certain level of intensity in order to be considered criminal in Switzerland,” Alexandre Curchod, a media lawyer, told AFP news agency.
But he admitted that there could be exceptions “if it can be shown that, under the cover of artistic production or joking, someone is, in fact, engaging in incitement”.
Separately, a projection showed voters on Sunday to have rejected a second initiative calling for at least 10 percent of new housing to be built by not-for-profit cooperatives in an attempt to reduce the cost of living.