First same-sex couples get married in Switzerland

First same-sex couples tie the knot in Switzerland on Friday after a referendum that changed the situation with gay rights in the country.

Among the first to marry were Aline, 46, and Laura, 45, who lived together for 21 years and turned their civil union into a marriage at the luxurious Palais Eynard hotel in Geneva.

Under a sparkling chandelier in a mirrored salon, in the presence of a dozen or so close friends and relatives, the couple exchanged touching words, recalling years of marriage and love for each other.

Holding hands throughout the ceremony, they signed official documents, accompanied by their witnesses.

“I am very pleased to announce that you are officially married,” said the mayor of Geneva, Marie Barbe-Chappuis, who personally conducted the first ceremony.

The audience erupted in applause as the couple exchanged a kiss.

“It was very touching. This is an important moment and it sends a very strong signal to society to be free to love and be loved,” Barbeil-Chappuis later told AFP.

“The symbolism was especially strong, as were the emotions.

“It is high time that marriage in Switzerland became completely equal.

“This is an important moment in the history of Switzerland and the institution of marriage.”

Switzerland is one of the last remaining Western European countries to accept same-sex marriage. The Netherlands was the first to make changes in 2001.

The Swiss government’s plans to introduce “marriage for all” were challenged by opponents who successfully initiated a referendum on the issue last September.

But 64.1 percent of voters supported the introduction of same-sex marriage in the wealthy Alpine country.

Switzerland decriminalized homosexuality in 1942. Until Friday, same-sex couples could only register a civil partnership.

However, this status does not confer the same rights as marriage, including citizenship and joint adoption of children.

Same-sex couples can now enter into civil marriages and enjoy the same rights as other married couples.

Foreign same-sex spouses are now eligible to apply for citizenship through a simplified procedure, and same-sex couples are now allowed to adopt together.