German Parliament Approves Bill Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage
The German Parliament has approved a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the country, a somewhat surprising move ahead of Federal elections in this fall:
BERLIN — When Sarah Kermer proposed to her girlfriend in March, she knew she was in love, but she did not know when, if ever, Germany would allow them to marry.
The answer came early Friday morning, when the lower house of the German Parliament voted to legalize same-sex marriage after a brisk but emotional debate, prompting Ms. Kermer and scores of other gay and lesbian Germans to celebrate in the streets.
“I was at work, and I just started crying,” Ms. Kermer, 25, said as she and her fiancée left a spontaneous gathering at the Brandenburg Gate in central Berlin. “I was watching the decision on live-stream, and I cried — a lot. This has all happened just so fast.”
The historic decision came with a swiftness rare in Germany’s usually staid politics, just five days after Chancellor Angela Merkel unexpectedly relaxed her party’s opposition to same-sex marriage and allowed lawmakers to vote on the issue according to their consciences.
Ms. Merkel’s softened resistance opened the way for her coalition partners in the Social Democratic Party and two other political groups to press for a vote on the measure, which had previously been blocked by Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats and their conservative allies. Ms. Merkel voted against the measure on Friday, but many of her party colleagues voted in favor, allowing it to pass easily — 393 votes in favor and 226 against, with four abstentions.
With the passage of the measure, Germany will join Ireland, France, Spain and other nations in extending full marital rights to same-sex couples, including the right to adopt children.
“If the Constitution guarantees one thing, it is that anyone in this country can live as they wish,” Thomas Oppermann, the parliamentary leader of the Social Democrats, said in opening the floor debate. “If gay marriage is decided, then many will receive something, but nobody will have something taken away.”
His remark was clearly intended to defuse the opposition of conservatives like Ms. Merkel who argued that the Constitution protected conventional marriage.
The chancellor explained her stance in a two-minute statement after the vote. She said that while she had come to support the right of same-sex couples to adopt, she continued to believe that marriage ought to remain a union between a man and a woman. What she did not want, she said, was a culture war over the issue.
“I hope that with today’s vote, not only that mutual respect is there between the individual positions, but also that an amount of social peace and togetherness can be created,” Ms. Merkel said.
Axel Hochrein, a board member of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany who attended the parliamentary debate, expressed no bitterness toward Ms. Merkel, even though he had said Thursday evening that he thought she was leaning toward voting yes.
“This is perhaps part of her religious education,” Mr. Hochrein said of the chancellor’s vote. “I think it is more honest of her than to say yes. In the end, she fought for a long time against it, and always argued it was in her feelings, and this was a feelings decision.”
In contrast to Ms. Merkel’s no vote, several prominent members of her party supported the measure, including her chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, and the defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, who has held several important posts in Ms. Merkel’s cabinets over the years.
To become law, the measure still requires approval by the upper house of Parliament and the signature of President Frank-Walter Steinmeier; neither appeared to be in doubt. Once the formalities are completed, Germany’s first same-sex marriages can be celebrated, probably some time in the early fall.
The legislative session on Friday was the last before Parliament’s summer recess, and the last before national elections in September.
The move is potentially a political shrewd one by Merkel in that it deprives the opposition of a potential argument against continued rule of the coalition that she heads, although most indications at this point seem to be that her party and its partners are likely to remain securely in power in any case. Additionally, the approval of same-sex marriage in Germany could lend momentum to the efforts for marriage equality in other German-speaking nations such as Switzerland and Austria, where same-sex marriage presently remains against against the law.