Earlier this year, July 1 to be exact, Switzerland said “I do” to same-sex marriages. Whilst same-sex couples won the right to enter civil partnerships back in 2007, it was only after a referendum late last year whereby popular vote, more than 64% of voters approved the “Marriage for All” initiative.
Not only has the Swiss Civil Code to define marriage changed from “a union between bride and a groom” to “a union between two people”, but the parliamentary amendment now gives LGBTQ+ community members greater equality when it comes to marriage, adoption and parental rights.
Despite the country ranking as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly countries in the world, Switzerland seems to be playing catch up to other European countries like Germany, the United Kingdom and France where same-sexed marriages were approved in 2017, 2014 and 2013 respectively.
In celebration of this historical LGBTQ victory and to help you navigate your own wedding (whether same-sex or otherwise) here is everything you need to know for your special wedding day in beautiful Switzerland. Felicitations!
Why did it take Switzerland so long?
Campaigning for gay marriage in Switzerland started more than 40 years ago and when the Netherlands became the first country to approve same-sex marriage back in 2001, Switzerland didn’t step into action and be on par with the Dutch. Switzerland only really started making inroads and moved in the same direction as their neighbors Germany and France in 2013 after many rounds of voting which resulted in a law that saw no person was to be discriminated based on “race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation”. Since then, Switzerland has been moving towards marriage equality. A country constantly rated as one of the “safest” and “friendliest” destinations in the world is finally making amends to be more inclusive when it comes to ethnicities, racial status and LGBTQ standings.
Chris Sprenger, President of PRIDE Central Switzerland celebrates Switzerland’s move for equality, “I feel good that it has finally arrived in Switzerland. It took way too long but it is a step to equality,” says Chris. He adds, “Many people waited desperately to have the opportunity to marry their partner, but this (law) now offers security for the LGBTQ+ community which is most important.”
What other benefits does this bring?
The security that Chris refers to comes in the form of new benefits. With the approval of same-sex marriages, the LGBTQ community have even more things to celebrate. Under the new amended law, same-sex couples are now also allowed to adopt children and married lesbian couples are allowed to have children through sperm donation which was only legal for married heterosexual couples. The new law also extends the role of parent to the woman not carrying the child and furthermore, the law also allows same-sex couples who are currently already registered in a partnership to convert their union into a marriage.
What countries recognize gay marriage in Switzerland?
Not all countries recognize gay marriages from other countries and there are only 19 out of 50 countries in Europe that do recognize same-sex marriages at the moment. Although Switzerland is not a part of the EU, they do have tight relationships with its neighbors which means its same-sex marriage policy is recognized in other countries that have the same law. Besides Switzerland, same-sex marriages are legally valid and performed in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Also, countries including Andorra, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino, and Slovenia recognize some form of same-sex civil union.
What is the procedure in Switzerland?
For American citizens who wish to marry in Switzerland, you will need to fill out a document declaring a definitive statement that you meet all the requirements for marriage. The Swiss Civil Registrar of the town or city where you want to get married will help you with the necessary requirements and it is worth noting that only Swiss civil authorities may marry you, not consular officers. Some common details you should keep in mind include: having two adults as witnesses present, translating any documents before arriving (French, German or Italian depending on what part of Switzerland you are in) and providing your residence status. There is also a waiting period of up to five weeks which is ample time for you to start planning your wedding in Switzerland.
What are the legal requirements?
There are a few things you have to meet in order to get married in Switzerland. The brides or grooms must be at least 18 years old and not be already married or in a registered partnership. If you are not Swiss but are marrying a Swiss resident, you will have to provide the appropriate documentation from your home country and in some cases apply for a visa. You will also need to notify the registry office of your address and intention and the office will send a marriage license permitting you and your partner to wed in their building. Unfortunately, you can not wed in Switzerland on a tourist visa but if you do have approval, it takes just three months to get married after authorization from the registrar.
How much does it cost?
A civil ceremony ranges between $300 to $400 USD. A civil partnership fee is $200 USD. When it comes to your wedding, the average price ranges from $40,000 and $50,000 USD for an all-inclusive wedding (catering, DJ, wedding planner and photography) for 80 guests, however additional costs can come into play like having a wedding on the weekend, during high season or if you have expensive tastes and want to hire out an entire hotel for your special day! We are after all in Switzerland – everything comes at a hefty cost but it will be memorable if you know how to plan it!
The best destination for a winter wedding in Switzerland
Switzerland is the ideal place for a wedding with beauty found in all 26 cantons. Forget your wedding photographer photoshopping your wedding photo with fluffy clouds drifting over the Swiss Alps – no, in Switzerland everything is exactly as Mother Nature intended and contributes to a memorable wedding album. An ideal location would be in one of the country's most historical hotels, The Kulm Hotel St. Moritz with the charming 19th-century hotel perched high up in the Swiss mountains overlooking the sparkly Lake St. Moritz. The hotel has its own on-site wedding planner and can help you from start to finish with catering, make-up and even floral arrangements curated by the hotel team. As far as activities go, could there be anything more romantic than going on a horse-drawn carriage with the snow-capped Swiss alps in the background?
Best castle for your wedding
If you have always dreamed of being royalty, why not consider hosting your wedding in a castle or palace in Switzerland? Chateau Gutsch perched high above Lake Lucerne is an elegant choice for weddings with the newly renovated Belle-Epoque chateau reopening earlier this year to host already a slew of weddings.
On the French-speaking side, a perennial favorite is the very same castle that inspired Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Chateau Chillon. Located on Lake Leman, the medieval island fortress sits just outside of resort town Montreux and can be booked for your wedding but be warned, the castle closes at midnight – how very Disney!
For self-professed foodies who love wine, the Le Grand Bellevue Palace in Gstaad is a much safer bet for people who like to party well into the night. The glamorously elegant hotel caters to big and small weddings with private function rooms in their award-winning wine cellar, alpine chalet and also 160 capacity banquet hall which is of course catered by Michelin-star chef Francesco de Bartolomeis.
Best wedding destinations for a Mediterranean vibe
If you are not a winter person, don’t dismiss Switzerland just yet. With more than 1500 lakes in Switzerland, it is hard to forget you are in a landlocked country with all the pristinely clean rivers, lakes and reservoirs that make up this well-groomed country. The lakes are not only great destinations for sports during the summer but they are great destinations for weddings too. On the German-speaking side of Switzerland, Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa takes out all the hard work for your wedding with a planner on-site to meet your needs. Choose to have your wedding in a heritage-protected Salon Napoleon under Europe’s largest Murano chandelier or in a garden surrounded by hundreds of lanterns with the Jungfrau as your backdrop.
If you find yourself on the French-speaking side of Switzerland, nothing beats the gorgeous Beau-Rivage Palace, a historical hotel where the treaty of Lausanne was signed and where Charlie Chaplin and Coco Channel frequently visited. Whether you choose to have your wedding in their garden overlooking Lake Leman or in the historical banquet hall, the recently renovated Beau Rivage Palace remains a gem for special events with the 18th-century art-nouveau decor seemingly never going out of fashion.
Best honeymoon destinations
You can easily spend your honeymoon in a big city like Zurich or Geneva but given you just got married to your one true love, you surely want to be alone and what better way to do this than spending your honeymoon in the middle of nowhere: Andermatt. Once a booming resort for alpine skiing, the now lesser-known alpine region is relatively isolated (compared to St. Moritz and touristy Zermatt) and it feels like it is just you, your new groom/bride and the mountains. The Chedi Andermatt is a nice spot for your wedding banquet but this 5-star luxury hotel is even better as a honeymoon spot with the hotel relatively hidden in the mountains. There is no guilt if you choose not to leave your room, they are spacious, inspiring and soundproof.
For city dwellers, you can’t beat the coolest city hotel in the country, the Dolder Grand in Zurich. Perched high above the city, overlooking Lake Zurich, the hotel has an impressive art collection but an even better spa and wellness center to cure a hangover after celebrating your unity in Zurich.
Best place for bachelor/bachelorette party
Wedding bliss aside, nothing is more important than the biggest party you will ever have in your lifetime: your bachelorette/bachelor party. What better way to wave adieu to your single life (finally!) than in Zurich's largest LGBTQ-friendly city: Zurich. Julia Mueller, member and supporter of the LGBTQ Community in Zurich and volunteer at the Pink Apple Film Festival loves how LGBTQ-friendly her home city is and doesn’t recommend just LGBTQ bars for celebrations and parties. “Zurich is a very LGBTQ-friendly city so we don’t need to separate our bars (from non-Queer destinations). The new law encourages an even stronger and safer feeling for us and personally, I like Das Gleis and Daniel H when I go out with friends. Although Zurich is known for their LGBTQ activities, Chris encourages partying in other cantons outside of Zurich like Bern and Lucerne, “My favorite bar in Zurich is Cranberry’s and L'arbre is queer-friendly for a cozy place with good drinks. Many people say Zurich is the only place for LGBTQ+ fun but even in Central Switzerland, we have around 10-15 organizations who offer spontaneous gatherings, parties, sports and other things,” says Chris.
Best souvenirs for your guests
Switzerland is a country made for souvenirs with wine and chocolate being the best items to take home to loved ones. Rather than giving keychains of the Eiffel tower to your guests, there are many great Swiss souvenirs to give your guests as a memory of your special day. A great parting gift for guests, boutique chocolateries can be found all over Switzerland with Max Chocolate in Lucerne, Auer Chocolate in Geneva and La Flor in Zurich coming highly recommended for their curated and tailor-made selections for special occasions.