Merkel sees new side to gay unions

German leader sig­nals sup­port for same-sex mar­riage. The shift stems from her ‘lifechang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.’

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Erik Kirschbaum Kirschbaum is a special cor­re­spon­dent.

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.

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