Crowds cheer as German politicians vote to legalise same-sex marriage

‘To be honest, Frau Merkel: thanks for nothing’, opposition deputy shouts to chancellor

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday she voted against legalising gay marriage given her personal view that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Video: Reuters


Berlin Gay Pride week began on Friday morning in a shower of rainbow confetti in an unusual location – the Bundestag parliamentary chamber – as a large majority of German MPs backed marriage equality.

Three kilometres south on Nollendorfplatz, the capital’s traditional gay neighbourhood, crowds cheered the vote putting Germany on course to become the 14th EU country where same sex couples can wed.

Some 393 MPs were in favour, 226 against and four abstained in a snap vote called four days after chancellor Angela Merkel, challenged on her refusal to back same-sex marriage, said she favoured a free vote on the matter.

That attempt to take the issue out of the looming federal election campaign took on a life of its own when her centre-left junior coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), sided with the opposition to force a snap vote.

After a hasty parliamentary debate, the marriage equality bill was backed by the opposition Greens and Left Party, as well as the SPD – and a quarter of MPs from Dr Merkel’s CDU/CSU camp.

While the Bundestag has spoken, constitutional uncertainties remain.

In 2001 Germany introduced civil partnership for same-sex couples and, after several legal challenges, Berlin expanded their rights to include equality on tax and inheritance issues.

Friday’s vote changes the German legal code to say that “marriage is entered into for life by two people of different or the same sex” and ends a lingering ban on same-sex couples adopting.

Irish referendum

The law, already approved by the upper house, the Bundesrat, is likely to face legal challenge. Article six of Germany’s post-war constitution, the Basic Law, defines marriage only as an institution enjoying special protection of the state.

But those who voted against same-sex marriage on Friday, including Dr Merkel, pointed to the most court’s most recent, narrower, definition of marriage from 2002.

“For me, marriage as defined in the German basic law means the marriage between husband and wife, and that is why I vote against the law today,” said Dr Merkel.

Two years ago the SPD-controlled justice ministry said marriage equality would require a change to the constitution; last week it said the opposite. On Friday former court president Hans-Jürgen Papier told Der Spiegel magazine that a change to the constitution would be required.

Pressure had been building in Germany to legislate for marriage equality since the 2015 Irish referendum, after which a poll showed two thirds of Germans in favor of a similar move.

With the end of a 30-year campaign in sight, marriage equality proponents attacked Dr Merkel for doing little more to end discrimination of homosexuals than the courts demanded.

Johannes Kahrs, a gay MP from the SPD, shouted: “To be honest, Frau Merkel: thanks for nothing.”

As another Bundestag closed its doors on Friday, speculation was rife over the lasting effect of its last, surprise vote. Has the marriage equality coup of the centre-left lifted the taboo hanging over a progressive, three-way coalition of SPD, Greens and the ex-communist Left Party? Or has approving marriage equality cleared the last remaining barrier to a first-time alliance between Dr Merkel’s CDU and the Greens?

Back on Nollendorfplatz, after a night of biblical rain torrents, the locusts stayed away as gay lobbyist Jörg Steinert welcomed the new era: “The most important news is that heterosexual couples can still get married, but homosexual couples can too.”

As the vote came in, Berlin homosexuals celebrated a historic day – and Angela Merkel’s discomfort – with a blast of Julie Andrews: “What we think is chic, unique and quite adorable/they think is odd and Sodom and Gomorrah-ble.”