Ger­man Par­lia­ment ap­proves same-sex mar­riage

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - DAVID RIS­ING

BER­LIN — Ger­man law­mak­ers voted Fri­day to le­gal­ize same-sex mar­riage, a move widely sup­ported across the coun­try that brings Ger­many in line with many of its Western peers. Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel voted against the mea­sure but paved the way for its pas­sage by al­low­ing mem­bers of her con­ser­va­tive party to vote ac­cord­ing to their con­science.

Law­mak­ers voted 393226 to le­gal­ize “mar­riage for every­body,” with four ab­sten­tions. The “no” votes came en­tirely from Merkel’s con­ser­va­tive bloc, al­though some prom­i­nent party mem­bers, in­clud­ing De­fense Min­is­ter Ur­sula von der Leyen and her chief of staff, Peter Alt­maier, voted for it.

“This is a his­toric day,” said Greens law­maker Volker Beck, who leapt to his feet to ap­plaud once the re­sult was an­nounced and was show­ered with con­fetti by sup­port­ers.

“It is re­ally an amaz­ing vic­tory,” said Beck, who has cam­paigned around Europe for gay rights.

Gay cou­ples out­side the chan­cellery, not far from Par­lia­ment, kissed and hugged after the de­ci­sion was an­nounced, wav­ing rain­bow flags and car­ry­ing signs say­ing “Mar­riage for every­body.”

“We’ve been hap­pily mar­ried for eight years, but we could never call it that,” said Shoshana Brandt, 38, stand­ing along­side her part­ner and their son. “We are happy and proud that we are now equal and we can live our love.”

After years of luke­warm op­po­si­tion to gay mar­riage along her party’s line, Merkel said Mon­day that law­mak­ers could take up the is­sue as a ques­tion of “con­science,” al­low­ing mem­bers of her con­ser­va­tive coali­tion to in­di­vid­u­ally vote for it if they wanted.

That prompted her cen­ter-left ri­vals to call for a quick vote on the is­sue, adding it to the agenda Fri­day on Par­lia­ment’s last reg­u­lar ses­sion be­fore Ger­many’s Sept. 24 na­tional elec­tion.

Ber­lin Chris­tian Demo­crat Jan-Marco Luczak, one of 75 law­mak­ers from Merkel’s bloc who voted for the mea­sure, urged his fel­low party mem­bers to join him.

“It would be ab­surd to try and pro­tect mar­riage by pre­vent­ing peo­ple to marry,” he told law­mak­ers in the de­bate ahead of the vote.

Many ap­plauded Merkel’s com­ments that opened the way for the vote, but So­cial Demo­crat law­maker Jo­hannes Kahrs noted that the chan­cel­lor has been a long­time op­po­nent of gay mar­riage.

“Many thanks for noth­ing,” he said bluntly.

Ger­many has al­lowed same-sex cou­ples to en­ter civil part­ner­ships since 2001 but has not granted them full mar­i­tal rights, which in­clude the pos­si­bil­ity of jointly adopt­ing chil­dren, even though gay mar­riage en­joyed some 80 per­cent sup­port in the pub­lic, ac­cord­ing to re­cent polls.

More than a dozen coun­tries in Europe have le­gal­ized gay mar­riage, all in the western part of the con­ti­nent, and Ger­many had been the largest where it was not yet le­gal.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional praised the law as a “vic­tory for equal­ity.”

“Ger­many has be­come the 23rd coun­try to rec­og­nize same-sex mar­riage and has sent a clear mes­sage to the world that gay and les­bian peo­ple should be en­ti­tled to the same rights as every­one else, and to full and equal pro­tec­tion of the law,” Amnesty’s Europe di­rec­tor John Dal­huisen said.

The new law won’t take ef­fect for sev­eral months be­cause it still needs to pass the up­per house of Par­lia­ment and be ap­proved by the pres­i­dent, al­though those are for­mal­i­ties. It is also ex­pected to face le­gal chal­lenges.

Merkel told re­porters later that her vote against the mea­sure was based upon her read­ing of the coun­try’s law con­cern­ing mar­riage but added that she did think gay cou­ples should be able to adopt.

Ger­many’s Con­sti­tu­tion is vague, say­ing only that “mar­riage and the fam­ily shall en­joy the pro­tec­tion of the state,” but Merkel said that for her, “mar­riage as de­fined by the law is the mar­riage of a man and a woman.” Still, she urged all views to be re­spected.

“It was a long, in­ten­sive, and for many also an emo­tional dis­cus­sion. That goes for me per­son­ally too. And I’m hope­ful not only that there will be re­spect for ei­ther side’s opin­ions, but that it will also bring about more peace and co­he­sion in so­ci­ety,” she said.

All of Merkel’s po­ten­tial coali­tion part­ners after the Septem­ber elec­tion, in­clud­ing the cen­ter-left So­cial Democrats of her chal­lenger, Martin Schulz, have been call­ing for same-sex mar­riage to be le­gal­ized.

An­a­lysts have sug­gested that by open­ing the door to gay mar­riage, Merkel re­moved yet an­other is­sue that her op­po­nents could have used against her in an elec­tion year — a nod to her prag­matic ap­proach to pol­i­tics.

In her nearly 12 years as chan­cel­lor, Merkel has moved her party to the cen­ter and away from con­ser­va­tive or­tho­doxy, speed­ing up Ger­many’s exit from nu­clear power and end­ing mil­i­tary con­scrip­tion, among other moves.

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Frank Jor­dans of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

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