Friday

23rd Feb 2018

Focus

Political games behind Germany's gay marriage vote

  • Gay men and women will be able to marry and adopt children after Friday's vote (Photo: Adam Lederer)

[Updated on 30 June at 10.00] Germany’s lesbians and gays received the right to wed on Friday (30 June), when a snap vote on the issue was held in the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament.

But their gain was the result of political machinations, whose broader ramifications remain to be seen.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Merkel hoped her U-turn could give her a tactical advantage in future coalition-building. (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

At the heart of this house of cards is Angela Merkel.

In a move that surprised Germans and her own centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, the chancellor reversed her long-standing opposition to same-sex marriages in a gathering with readers of women’s magazine Brigitte on Monday.

While Germany was one of the first European countries to legalise same-sex partnerships in 2001, Merkel’s CDU has repeatedly refused to grant equal rights to same-sex unions, for fear of upsetting the party’s staunchly conservative wing, as well as its Bavarian partner, the CSU.

Merkel, who voted against the gay marriage bill on Friday, had suggested on earlier this week that MPs should be able to vote on the matter “according to their conscience”, meaning she would not force the party to vote as a bloc.

Terry Reintke, a German green MEP and campaigner for lesbian, gay, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) rights, said Merkel was motivated by strategic concerns for coalition building after the upcoming parliamentary elections on 24 September.

“She has been very open about a coalition with the greens, but we have made same-sex marriages a red line for such a government,” Reintke told EUobserver, noting that the social democrats (SPD) and liberals (FDP) had followed the green example and set the same precondition.

The green lawmaker said Merkel’s move was an attempt to pull the rug from under the feet of the other parties, who had planned to make same-sex marriage a key question of their election campaigns.

“A wide majority of Germans support same-sex marriage, so it could have been a good issue to mobilise voters with,” she noted.

According to a recent poll by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, 83 percent of respondents in Germany support same-sex marriage.

Tough questions

Merkel would also have had to face tough questions on the CDU's stance just to have to change her mind after the elections, if she were to enter a coalition with the greens, social democrats or liberals.

The social democrats, however, managed to upend Merkel’s plans by putting the vote on the agenda already this Friday, which is the last session of the German parliament before the elections.

The SPD had only last Sunday pledged to make the introduction of same-sex marriages a key issue of their campaign - an issue which some linked to Merkel's statement on Monday.

The bill sailed through the parliament on Friday, where a broad majority of MPs supported same-sex marriage.

The fact that the vote was held already on Friday, and not after the elections, seemingly displeased Merkel.

On Wednesday, she told Wirtschaftswoche, a German business weekly, that the decision on same-sex marriages had been “drawn into a party political debate" and that this was “sad and … completely unnecessary.”

Three quarters of CDU voted against the bill, meaning that Merkel could come under fire from her MPs as well as the sister-party CSU.

All the credit

Reintke worried that Merkel could still end up getting the credit for same-sex weddings, rather than the progressive politicians and gay rights activists who had campaigned on the issue for decades.

“Of course I am happy we are getting this right,” said Reintke.

“But the way it was introduced is like an act of mercy from heterosexuals, instead of a human right that each of us holds ... human rights shouldn't be treated in such an instrumental way. This time we stand to win, but what if a rollback of rights could take place equally fast?".

She said there were already signs from the far-right that they would use the vote to mobilise their voters.

Birgit Sippel, a German social democrat and MEP, told EUobserver that it had confused her party to suddenly lose a key election question.

“But on the other hand, it shows we are able to introduce same-sex marriages just a week after singling it out as a core issue at our congress,” Sippel said.

Was she afraid of a backlash similar to the one in France?

The then president, Francois Hollande hurriedly introduced gay marriages to kick-start his five-year reign on a progressive note, but his bid ended up triggering massive street protests, known as la Manif pour tous.

Sippel said no.

“This vote may have come suddenly. But we have had the debate for years, both in society and in the parliament. The CDU has blocked previous attempts, but the bills, all the legal solution, they have been discussed and developed for years.”

The bill will now be signed by president Frank-Walter Steinmeier before entering into force. The first same-sex marriages in Germany could take place in September.

Analysis

So what if the Irish PM is gay?

Taoiseach's sexual orientation has grabbed headlines, but history shows that gay politicians seldom promote LGBT rights.

Lithuania helps gay Chechens flee Russia

Linas Linkevicius, foreign minister of Lithuania, said his country issued visas to two persecuted Chechens and that an international effort was underway to protect others.

Malta legalises same-sex marriage

Once regarded as conservative, the catholic island of 440,000 becomes the latest EU country to allow same sex couples to marry.

Interview

Gay rights face backlash in Poland

Polish society is becoming more gay-friendly, but anti-gay activists are becoming more radical and the government is doing little to stop it, says gay right activist Agata Chaber.

EU court bars tests for gay asylum seekers

Authorities in EU countries can no longer impose controversial psychological tests to determine whether an aslyum seeker is telling the truth about their homosexuality.

Supported by

News in Brief

  1. EU to double funding for Sahel forces
  2. EU parliament president: 'The immigration problem is Africa'
  3. May to unveil EU departure strategy next week
  4. Pregnant workers may be dismissed, EU court rules
  5. Romanian minister demands anti-corruption prosecutor fired
  6. Luxembourg and Ireland pay highest minimum wages
  7. Freedom of expression under threat in Spain, warn MEPs
  8. Report: EU to increase sanctions on Myanmar

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeAnkara Ban on LGBTI Events Continues as Turkish Courts Reject NGO Appeals
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. Election fever picks up This WEEK
  2. EU-Morocco fishing deal casts doubt on EU future foreign policy
  3. EU leaders put 'Spitzenkandidat' on summit menu
  4. European far-right political party risks collapse
  5. The key budget issues on EU leaders' table
  6. EU leaders to kick off post-Brexit budget debate
  7. Greek government's steady steps to exit bailout programme
  8. Frontex: Europe's new law enforcement agency?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  3. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  4. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  5. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  6. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  8. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  10. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  11. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission
  12. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?