A Tale Of Two Bills

The different treatment of same-sex marriage and sex self-id in Switzerland.

On December 18th, 2020, the Swiss National Council passed the “Marriage For All” bill. This would legalise same-sex marriage, equalising citizenship and adoption rights for gay and lesbian couples, as well as allowing lesbian parents to conceive through sperm donation services. However, under the Swiss democratic system, any opposition had until the following April to gather enough signatures to trigger a ratification referendum before it could pass into law.

On April 12th 2021, conservative opponents handed in the signatures required to trigger a referendum, however there was little doubt that same-sex marriage would be accepted by the public. Opinion prior to the vote put support as high as 82%.

Even so, in the run up to the referendum, critics mounted strong opposition and support did fall several points during the campaign. Social conservatives (including evangelical groups and supporters of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party) brought up many historic objections to gay marriage, with focus on concern for children of same-sex parents, or same-sex marriage being somehow against nature. Because the bill contained provisions to allow lesbians to access donor sperm, opposition posters proclaiming the bill would “kill the father” were widely displayed. The same anti-gay sentiment that has always stood against LGB acceptance was on full display

However, despite the bitter campaign, and allegations of dirty tactics and abuse, the “Marriage For All” bill was passed by the Swiss public on September 26th, 2021 by 64% to 36%. As such, same-sex couples will be able to marry once this passes into law next year, replacing existing civil partnerships from that point onwards.

On December 18th, 2020, at the same time as the “Marriage For All” bill, the Swiss National Council passed another bill, titled “Change of sex in civil status”.

This bill would allow change of legal sex on the basis of a simple civil declaration, with no medical assessment or preconditions, and for a nominal administrative fee. This is what has been referred to as “gender self-id” in the Anglosphere, but the Swiss legislation makes it far clearer that this is about self-identification of sex.

Despite protestations from the Women’s Human Rights Campaign, this bill garnered little serious opposition, and passed quietly through the same April 2021 deadline for requiring a ratification referendum. As such, this is now scheduled to pass into law on January 1st, 2022.

So before lesbians, gay men and bisexuals gain the right in Switzerland to enter into same-sex marriages, married members of the opposite sex will be able to declare themselves the same sex, with no oversight, for 75 Swiss Francs. Heterosexual men will gain the right to become lesbian women by civil declaration, without this proposal having to win popular support and be put to a public referendum. While same-sex marriage was subjected to a moralising, ideological campaign that attacked same-sex relationships as against nature and questioned the ethics of allowing lesbians to conceive through sperm donation, self-id of sex enters the statute books with scarcely a fuss. Switzerland, which only extended the right to vote in all elections to all women in 1990, will - just over 30 years later - decide that it will recognise any man as a woman on their own say-so.

Same-sex marriage affects no-one other than the individual families involved, and making a vocal case for it in clear language, in the public eye, is exactly what campaigners for gay marriage have done, proudly, for years.

Self-id of sex on the other hand affects absolutely everybody, yet its passage into law in country after country is marked not by wide public debate, but by silence, and against overwhelming public opposition when people are made aware of what it actually is. A law which makes sex something anybody can change so trivially completely undermines the ability to record, recognise and protect sex and sexual orientation throughout society.

When the campaign for self-id is brought to light and is revealed to be highly controversial - for example in the UK, where less than 1 in 5 actually support it -  the abuse and bigotry that we have seen levelled against gay rights is used as a shield. That is, rather than have the argument stand on its own merits, we are told that opponents of sex self-id are “like” opponents of LGB rights; that opposition to teaching self-identification of sex as fact in schools is “like” section 28; that “the same” arguments were (and still are) used against same-sex marriage. These are facile comparisons, which appropriate the very real and continued demonisation of same-sex relationships to lend cover to a very different demand: that sex and sexual orientation that is based on our physical bodies should be rendered unspeakable. 

On the same day that the Swiss ratified same-sex marriage, Keir Starmer declared during a BBC interview that saying that only women have a cervix is “something that shouldn’t be said, it is not right”. That is the practical outcome of the campaign for self-identification of sex, because what it demands is unsupportable unless absolutely everybody participate in a belief system that regards bodies as irrelevant. Since this is a demand so far removed from reality it is fragile and unsustainable, and must be enforced through social pressure, draconian rules and language policing. Don’t say that only women have a cervix on pain of being deemed ignorant at best, or hateful and bigoted at worst. 

This is not an open campaign to win hearts and minds and persuade the public of the rightness of this position, but a coercive insistence that nobody say what we all know to be true for fear of puncturing an illusion.

For a government to recognise a simple self-declaration of sex is to ratify that anybody can be either sex simply by saying so, and that it is impossible to say otherwise. If that is true, well then a man truly can have a cervix, and anybody who might say otherwise should not do so - it “isn’t right”.

So if we cannot name sexed bodies, then we cannot say who is which sex, or say who is same-sex attracted, and both sex and sexuality cease to exist meaningfully. What hope for education and acceptance of same-sex orientation in schools if you cannot even say who it applies to? If gay and lesbian can apply to anyone of either sex, oriented towards either sex? In the words of the great philosopher Buddy Pine, “when everyone is super, no-one will be”.

The cost of all of this is women’s and LGB rights and reality becoming unspeakable. When the outcome is that distinctions between men and women cannot be named - and anyone who draws attention to them is punished - this serves only the unnamable default male. In that context, is it really a surprise that Switzerland - a comparatively conservative country where campaigners mounted such strong opposition to same-sex marriage - nodded through self-id with barely a whisper? Is it any wonder that Argentina, Malta and Ireland accepted legal self-id of sex before abortion?

The rights of women and those who are same-sex oriented do not sit on a single inevitable line of forward progress with self-id of sex as the next logical step on the way to some progressive utopia. Self-id creates contradictory and conflicting demands and this is a debate that needs to be had in the open. Campaigners should welcome the opportunity to do so, and the fact that they don’t - that they do everything possible to stop the debate taking place - speaks volumes.