On Friday, in what is considered to be another major victory for LGBTQI rights, Germany’s parliament voted to legalize same-sex marriage. The significance of this legislative measure cannot be overstated, as Germany has traditionally been a country politically divided between conservatives, faithful Christians, and progressives.
The German parliament vote result was 393 for and 226 against. Angela Merkel’s government has taken a step towards redefining the institution of marriage, a measure that is still widely opposed in various countries around the world.
Volker Beck, a prominent German gay rights activist and a member of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, celebrated the legislative victory as a “joyous turning-point.” Beck, who is also a member of Parliament representing the Green Party, said that “equality and civil rights have been achieved.”
Merkel claims she was moved to provide the opportunity for a vote on same-sex marriage after she had met with a lesbian couple from her constituency who were fostering eight children. In considering how important the issue of adoption is, Merkel claims that her concerns about gay couples adopting children were alleviated after seeing how successful the two women were.
Interestingly, Chancellor Merkel did not vote in favor of the same-sex measure, saying that her Christian beliefs in marriage as fundamentally between a man and a woman had not changed.
“For me, marriage in the constitution is marriage between man and woman, and therefore I did not vote in favor of this bill.”
Angela Merkel, who said that allowing the vote to go ahead was for her a “question of conscience,” was raised in a strict Protestant home. She found her political home in the Christian Democratic Union party, which promotes traditional Christian values.
According to a report in The Washington Post, some believe that this was a strategic political move by Merkel, who is allegedly planning to run for a fourth term as Chancellor in September this year. Leading LGBTQI activists in Germany have speculated that their persistence in achieving the opportunity for a vote on same-sex marriage may have added to the electoral pressure Merkel is facing in an election year.
The German Bishops’ Conference showed strong opposition in the lead-up to the vote, saying that Merkel had allowed a “hasty procedure,” which, in their view, has led to a steamrolling over the “Christian concept of marriage.”
Nevertheless, Merkel’s leadership depends on support from the center-left leaning Social Democrats party who form part of the Chancellor’s coalition government. One of the Social Democrats’ provisos for entering into an alliance was that a vote on same-sex marriage would have to come before parliament.
Axel Hochrein, a board member of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in German, noted that “at times we didn’t think there could be equality for marriage because of our constitution, which clearly was only intended for opposite-sex couples when it was written in 1949.” A Nazi-era statute criminalizing homosexual acts between men was only scrapped in 1994.
Robert Beachy, author of Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity, suggested that the lingering suppression that had begun during Hitler’s Chancellorship might have been the result of the post-war period which left Germany divided until 1990. Andreas Krass of the Center for Transdisciplinary Gender Studies says that “Berlin and some of the conservative villages in the south of Germany — they exist on different planets.”
However, church attendance in Germany is decreasing, and independent polling revealed that the majority of the German public supports same-sex marriage. According to Beachy, Berlin has once again become a center for the open expression of LGBTQI sexuality.
[Featured Image by Michael Sohn/AP Images]