Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Voters in Switzerland approved a change to the country’s constitution that allows gay and lesbian couples to get married
Voters in Switzerland have overwhelmingly backed a change to the country’s constitution that allows same-sex couples to get married.
An exit poll showed the referendum passed by 59% of the vote.
The referendum said civil unions would be made equivalent to marriage “in Switzerland”.
But any same-sex couples who had already tied the knot could formally go on to other types of relationship documents, such as a civil partnership or pension.
The result was welcomed by gay rights activists.
“If you are gay or lesbian, or in a serious relationship, it’s already good enough to have the right to get married. It’s not enough to have the rights of marriage,” said EU Femme, an organisation that works to extend “full legal equality to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people” in the country.
About two-thirds of Swiss voters backed the referendum on 4 December.
During the day, about 200,000 people voted – 45% of the country’s 23.8 million registered voters.
Key points of the text
Marriage is only valid in registered relationships between two people who have been engaged for at least three months, or longer if the woman is older
No-one can enter into such a civil union with anyone
Both members of the same union must be of the same age
The meaning of “partnership” is defined as a partnership “to make an active role in one’s life”
The person who gives consent to an institution does not give up rights to later bring their partner’s name into, or take over, any existing institution
The scope of the referendum was limited to civil partnerships – not marriages.
There are only 0.3% of couples registered as “spouses” in Switzerland, according to official data.
About three people out of 1,000 marriages are same-sex – fewer than in some other European countries, but also smaller than the national average.
How same-sex couples could get married
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Same-sex couples could already get married under a previous amendment to the Swiss constitution
Gay couples already have the right to get married under a constitutional amendment approved by parliament in 2009.
It describes marriage as “a bona fide union of man and woman, and the marital relation as an expression of an enduring bond by which a person bears the responsibility of protecting each other”.
For their part, Swiss traditionalists regard the “infamous beast” – as they call it – as the epitome of a society that was built on fidelity and family.
Same-sex couples – at least those who can be legally married – are often partners in couples who share in the risks and in the rewards of any operation, diagnosis or dispute, according to the government.
In Switzerland, one of the European Union’s most conservative nations, many people do not want their government to intervene in their private lives.
Voters rejected a further change to the constitution in 2013 on a 64% to 36% margin.
Shortly afterwards, a poll showed that two-thirds of the country’s population backed legalising same-sex marriage, but Swiss parliamentarians rejected the suggestion.