Voters in Switzerland approved on Sunday a proposal to include sexual orientation in the existing criminal law against hate crimes. Evangelicals have warned that it will conflict with freedom of expression.
In a referendum, more than 62 percent of voters supported the proposal to make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sexual identity a criminal offense, according to pollster gfs.bern, Reuters reported.
Although the Swiss parliament had passed a law in 2018 to include sexual orientation in its anti-racism statutes, providing for imprisonment of up to three years for an offender, opponents gained the 50,000 signatures needed to call for a referendum on proposed legislation.
The Swiss Evangelical Alliance, locally known as SEA-RES, called the decision “problematic and superfluous.”
“Extending criminal protection against hatred and discrimination to members of sexual minorities is problematic and superfluous. On the one hand, the existing law already offers sufficient possibilities for punishment and, on the other hand, a conflict with freedom of expression is foreseeable,” SEA-RES said in a statement.
While evangelicals "condemn all forms of hatred and violence against people of all sexual orientations” and believe current laws already protect LGBT persons, the proposed legislation could restrict religious freedom by penalizing those who speak out against LGBT lifestyles or in favor of traditional marriage "in accordance with the understanding of the Bible," the alliance warned.
The historic Protestant Church of Switzerland (or EKS), which is theologically liberal in its teaching on sexuality, supported the changes in the law and encouraged voters to vote “yes” in the referendum, according to Evangelical Focus.
The LGBT community celebrated Sunday's vote. “The result proves a strong sign of acceptance for lesbians, gays and bisexuals,” Pink Cross Switzerland said, according to BBC. “After the clear yes, the LGBTI community will use this momentum to achieve the consistent implementation of the penal code and to enforce marriage equality.”
A bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Switzerland has been in the pipeline since 2013, and LGBT groups are now likely to push for it.
SEA-RES General Secretary Marc Jost said evangelical churches see the marriage of a man and a woman “as the only couple they want to marry.”
“We just want to be free to say: ‘OK, we want to privilege the marriage of a man and a woman.’ And we don't want to be at risk if we share this opinion, and treat other couples in a different way,” he explained, according to BBC.