Germany, what took you so long?

by James Stout, San Diego, CA

Today, as you will have seen in our breaking news piece, Germany’s Bundestag finally passed a bill giving same sex couples the right to marry. What’s frankly bizarre is that it took this long for the rainbow curtain to move as far East. Germany is generally seen as a tolerant and socially liberal country, so what took it so long and why did Angela Merkel vote against the bill?

30 Jun, 2017

In 2001 Germany passed a law that allowed partnerships for Same Sex couples, but these partnerships were very limited and didn’t include rights such as joint tax filing, which in turn placed a heavier tax burden on them than straight couples, a”gay tax” if you will. Adoption laws also took a long time to come into line. Angela Merkel herself recently changed her opinions after meeting a lesbian couple who had long term fostered many children. It seems odd that she was so convinced in her opinions about LGBTQ+ people parenting children without having ever seen any of them try.

The bill that passed today had passed Germany’s upper house almost two years ago. Since then it had been subject to multiple delays and legal challenges to the adjournments which never succeeded. Merkel herself, despite meeting those lesbian parents, couldn’t bring herself to vote yes or not vote at all and feared the consequences of a vote for her grand coalition.

Germany has a Christian conservative fringe which claims that marriage has always been an institution specific to men and women, (they ignore that certain men were not allowed to marry certain women in Germany within the last century) but public opinion has long since moved away from this stance and towards marriage equality for German citizens. Indeed last week two major parties stated they would not form an alliance with Merkel without a commitment to marriage equality. Last week, the German Parliament voted to void the convictions of 50,000 men who were convicted under a law prohibiting men having sex with men that was repealed in 1994. Fortunately, Merkel was able to overcome her own opinions and allow her party a free vote on the issue.

Luckily the Social Democrats in Merkel’s coalition could combine with the socialist and Green opposition, as well as 70 Christian Democrats, to move the bill to a vote. The bill then passed with 393 votes in favour and 226 against. Merkel knew that this free vote would see a resolution before the Bundestag’s summer break and the general election later this year. This should make it easier for Merkel to negotiate coalitions after the election, a calculating move for someone who had a “tummyache” about the issue.

For others, the move is much more than a political one. The New York times quoted Social Democrat parliamentary leader Thomas Oppermann as saying ““If the Constitution guarantees one thing, it is that anyone in this country can live as they wish. If gay marriage is decided, then many will receive something, but nobody will have something taken away.” For a few lawmakers, this vote came on their final day in parliament as they will not be standing in the forthcoming elections. Volker Beck, a Green Party politician, has spent 23 years campaigning for marriage equality and he got it on his very last day. A tearful Beck told German news agency DPA that "Today a bastion has fallen... It’s really an amazing victory" . Let’s hope that this is the first in a series of victories as the rainbow curtain of equality moves East.