If there was ever a correction for us to be happy to make, it's this one. This article, written by Angela Waters, was first published on June 22 and explored how German minority parties were getting serious about making gay marriage a reality. Just over a week later, on June 30, a clear majority of German MPs voted to legalize same-sex marriage, days after Chancellor Angela Merkel finally dropped her opposition to a vote. Congratulations, Germany. Read the original piece below.
Currently there are three bills that could bring marriage equality to Germany. The problem, however, is that they may never reach a vote. For years proposals have been taken off the daily agenda by the CDU’s majority coalition, but now the Green party has enlisted the help of the Federal Constitutional Court to force a vote.
Gay rights advocates believe a vote may be all Germany needs to finally pass marriage equality into law.
“The coalition says we can’t do anything about this yet, and they remove the issue from the itinerary," Markus Ulrich of the Lesbian and Gay Association in Germany told Highsnobiety. "Now the Federal Constitutional Court could finally force a vote. If the court decides that these proposals need to be listened to, it is highly likely that members of the coalition will go against the party and vote for the bill.”
Despite resistance from Merkel’s party, a 2017 government study shows that 83 percent of Germans are in favor of marriage equality. Still, a large part of the CDU’s constituents are older than 60, religious, and believe firmly in the party’s assertion that marriage must be between a man and a woman.
Merkel has said publicly that she would not sponsor a bill to equalize the playing field between straight marriages and gay partnerships, but the chancellor is going against a mounting current in terms of popular opinion.
Her coalition partner from the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Justice Minister Heiko Maas, says marriage equality will be a sticking point in any future agreements between the two parties. “This should have happened a long time ago,” Maas told German media. “And if we can’t legislate it, then the courts will eventually force our hands.”
Separate Is Rarely Equal
One of the reasons the German government has been able to stall gay marriage for so long is the early introduction of same-sex partnerships in 2001, which afford gay couples nearly the same rights as their married counterparts.
“For the most part, adoption and tax law has been put on equal footing between married couples and life partners, but there are still key differences,” Ulrich said. A gay person can adopt a child, but they cannot adopt the child together as a couple. While both partners can become parents of the child, they have to do so one after the other.
In a lesbian relationship, if a child is born into a civil partnership, the partner still has to adopt the child, whereas a married person would automatically be considered the father. “The little discrepancies are symbolic,” Ulrich said. “The CDU is saying that the nuclear family – father, mother and child – is the best model.”
Difficulties can also arise for gay Germans who leave the country. While even some nations without same-sex marriage acknowledge foreign unions, a German civil partnership does not translate very well. “There is also the problem if you want to go abroad,” Ulrich said. “For example if you want to go to the United States, your civil partnership is not acknowledged there. You have to dissolve your civil partnership in Germany before you can get married in the United States.” This can add further complications to the stress of getting a visa, especially as gay marriage is increasingly recognized elsewhere.
When it comes to Europe, there is a clear geographical trend. The Nordic and western countries, such as the United Kingdom, Spain and Denmark, recognize same-sex marriage, while countries in the middle such as Italy, Austria and Greece have some sort of civil partnership available. Constitutional bans on gay marriage are found mostly in eastern states, such as Poland, Serbia and Ukraine.
The Gay Capital of Europe?
Despite restrictions on gay marriage, Germany is one of the largest queer destinations in Europe. It boasts the highest concentration of LGBT people on the continent at 7.4 percent, with Berlin and Cologne in a tight race for the country’s most gay-friendly city.
Many residents find it difficult to reconcile the openness of their communities with the conservative law. “It doesn’t seem to make sense for a country that seems otherwise liberal not to allow gay marriage,” Martin A., 25, told Highsnobiety. Like many others, Martin came out after he moved to Berlin from a small town in the UK.
The city has long been a symbol of open-mindedness and a haven for those who do not conform to traditional standards. Its previous mayor of 13 years, Klaus Wowereit, made history as one of the only openly queer mayors of a European city, famously saying, “I’m gay, and that’s a good thing.”
Despite the welcoming culture, though, the lack of absolute equality is marring the country's progressive reputation, and forces those insistent on marriage to move abroad.
“There is the argument that marriage in general is an outdated way to connect two people,” Martin said. “I’m sure there are gay people who say the straight people can keep it – but when it comes to having equal rights, it’s important.”