Bundestag set to back same-sex marriage

Angela Merkel softens opposition and promises free vote in parliament

German chancellor Angela Merkel has softened her strict opposition to marriage equality, saying that the issue of gay marriage should be a question of conscience, while promising a free vote in parliament on the issue. Video: REUTERS


The German Bundestag is likely to vote in favour of marriage equality on Friday after chancellor Angela Merkel softened her opposition and promised a free vote on the issue, just three months before the federal election.

At an event in Berlin on Monday evening, she was asked by a member of the audience when he could call his boyfriend his husband. Asked a similar question four years ago, Ms Merkel said she had “huge difficulties” with the issue.

On Monday night she said she had “taken note” of how all other mainstream parties were campaigning to allow homosexuals to marry. And so, in a tortuous display of Merkel rhetoric, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader began to shift her position in public ahead of the September 24th vote.

“To be honest I am a little concerned that something like this is made the object of party motions,” she said.

Nuclear energy Playing for time, things began to spiral out of control when the leader explained how she thought about things for a long time before “spitting out” a final position, whether on the Greek crisis or ending nuclear energy in Germany after the Fukushima disaster.

As her Berlin audience began to wonder what marriage equality had to do with bailouts or fallout, Ms Merkel continued to talk about how she still had reservations when others argued that homosexuals lived the same values in their relationship as married people. And, finally, she said her piece: “I would like to lead the discussion into a situation of a question of conscience, instead of me having to push something through with a majority resolution.”

Voter desertion With that, she flung open the door to marriage equality in Germany without revealing where she stood. It was a masterclass in Merkellian politics and a last-minute effort to have it both ways: limit liberal voter desertion to pro-marriage equality parties while containing a potential revolt among conservative voters angry that she has modernised the CDU beyond recognition.

Reaching out to the latter group, she added: “I would like that, despite the election campaign, this discussion will take place with respect for those who have difficulty with such a decision.”

In 2001 Germany was among the European avant garde when it introduced registered partnerships for same-sex couples, but in more recent times it has missed the marriage equality boat.

Ireland’s 2015 marriage equality vote was a rude awakening for many Germans, prompting much soul-searching about how the country had been overtaken on a social issue “even by Catholic Ireland”.