The Christian Democratic People’s party (PDC) is the party behind the initiative: “In Favour of Marriage and Family – Against the Marriage Penalty”, which will be voted on this Sunday 28th February.
The initiative’s negative overtones towards same-sex couples, as well as its shortcomings, make it hard to support.
However, it might help to ignite a debate regarding 80,000 married couples who are currently taxed unfairly, in comparison to non-married couples with equal earnings.
The proposal aims to remove this uneven tax burden, by adjusting the tax of those who are married, to the same rate applied to unmarried working couples.
In Switzerland, tax is calculated on married couples’ joint earnings.
This means second earners pay the marginal tax rate of their spouse on the first franc they earn. This taxation practice is particularly onerous when the first earner has a high income.
The classification of marriage as a ‘single economic unit,’ has been one of the tax system’s main criticisms. The OECD recommends moving from joint to individual tax assessment.
Interestingly, the proposal does not attempt to change the status quo, which puts both salaries into a single tax pot. On the contrary, if the initiative is adopted, the dual taxation model would be entrenched further, making it harder to switch to an individually assessed taxation model in future.
Furthermore, many strongly object to the initiative’s antiquated definition of marriage, restricted to ‘a union of a man and a woman’. The Christian Democratic People’s party’s proposal goes as far as writing this definition into the constitution.
There is a whole movement, Gemeinsam Weiter, dedicated to fighting the initiative because of its inherent discrimination.
In a radio interview on RTS, Christophe Darbellay, president of the Christian Democratic People’s Party, accused the opposition of using a ‘detail’ in the proposal to torpedo the whole initiative: “It is important not to deflect from the subject of the actual issue, which is a real issue. It is scandalous that married couples (have been unfairly taxed) for more than 30 years,” he said.
Etienne Francey, committee member of Network – Gay Leadership, would like to split the two subjects, he told Le News: “They should ask the Swiss people to vote on two separate questions: Firstly, do you want to engrave into the constitution that marriage should only be between a man and a woman? And secondly, do you want equal taxation for all couples, regardless..(of whether)..they are married or not?”
The other group the Christian Democratic People’s party claims to aid with its proposal, are married pensioners.
There is a cap applied to the State (AVS) pensions paid to married couples. While unmarried couples are each paid out a full pension, married pensioners receive only one and a half pensions together. However, this argument fails to take into account survivor benefits and other advantages enjoyed by married couples.
Some argue that the Cantons have eased the tax situation for some married couples over the years, for example, by granting tax benefits to those who have children. They also point out that only a few high earners will benefit from the initiative.
What on the surface seems like a well meant initiative, actually discriminates against same-sex couples and does little to ease taxes for the majority of the work force.
Although to its credit, the Christian Democratic People’s party has encouraged debate in an important area that needs work.
The Swiss government recommends voters to reject the initiative.
The referendum vote is on Sunday 28 February 2016.
By Jade Cano
Jade is a freelance journalist and lives in Geneva. Originally from Colombia, she has lived in the UK and Germany.