Merkel sees new side to gay unions
German leader signals support for same-sex marriage. The shift stems from her ‘lifechanging experience.’
BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel surprised Germans and her own conservative party just three months before the Sept. 24 election by abruptly signaling her support for same-sex marriage — a major shift for the normally cautious leader.
Even though Germany, generally considered progressive on social issues, was one of the first European countries to legalize samesex partnerships, in 2001, Merkel’s conservative-led government since 2005 repeatedly refused to consider granting full legal rights for same-sex unions because of staunch opposition from her party’s right wing.
Already leery of Merkel because she eliminated military conscription, which the right cherished, and decided to close down the country’s nuclear power plants, the conservatives in her ruling Christian Democratic Union watched helplessly Monday evening as Merkel discarded yet another sacred chapter of their playbook by telling a group of readers from a women’s magazine that she was now in favor of an open vote in Parliament on samesex marriage.
Because most other major parties in Germany are demanding legislation allowing same-sex marriage, the measure would almost certainly be passed quickly by the new Parliament’s lower house, the Bundestag, shortly after the election.
Merkel stopped short of explicitly speaking in favor of same-sex marriage. But her remarks were widely seen in Germany as a reversal of her opposition, and they dominated headlines and the airwaves Tuesday.
Stern magazine called it a “bombshell” that shattered “one of the pillars” of conservatism in Germany.
Despite her popularity across Germany and the perception that she is at the peak of her powers, Merkel’s hand may have been forced because several would-be coalition partners are demanding support for samesex marriage as a condition for joining an alliance with her party after the September election.
Merkel is widely expected to win a fourth, four-year term to lead Europe’s largest economic power. Some lawmakers are calling for a quick vote on the marriage issue this week, the final week the Bundestag meets before the election, but that is considered unlikely.
It remains to be seen how the conservative wing of her party will react to the surprising turn of events. Leaders in the archconservative Christian Social Union, a sister party, already expressed their opposition.
Merkel, who had spoken out against gay marriage four years ago because she feared negative consequences for adopted children, shifted gears by mentioning at the event organized by Brigitte magazine that she recently had an epiphany on the issue.
“I had a life-changing experience in my home constituency,” Merkel explained during a question-and-answer session. She said she had been invited to dinner with a woman and her partner who were caring for eight foster children. She saw that the children were well cared for, and it dawned on her that her party’s arguments against same-sex marriage were no longer valid.