Saturday

22nd Sep 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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • 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.

Opinion

The dangers of resurgent nationalism in Greece

Virulent nationalism in Greece has been stirred up in the context of austerity and renewed negotiations with Macedonia. Recent attempts by the government to address the inequalities suffered by LGBT persons have also been met with a reactionary backlash.

Supported by

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  2. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia
  3. Sound of discord at 'Sound of Music' Salzburg summit
  4. Salzburg summit presses for bigger Frontex mandate
  5. UK's post-Brexit plan 'will not work', EU says
  6. Airbnb agrees to clarify pricing for EU
  7. Libya keeps coast guards rejected by the EU
  8. EU divisions on menu at Salzburg dinner

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us