Merkel ally rules out marriage equality for Germany

Bundestag spokesman for chancellor’s party says marriage is ‘union of man and woman’

Crowds react in the courtyard at Dublin Castle the Yes vote in the referendum on same-sex marrage. An ally of chancellor Angela Merkel has ruled out allowing Germany to follow the Irish example on marriage equality, saying “marriage is ... the union of man and woman”. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

Crowds react in the courtyard at Dublin Castle the Yes vote in the referendum on same-sex marrage. An ally of chancellor Angela Merkel has ruled out allowing Germany to follow the Irish example on marriage equality, saying “marriage is ... the union of man and woman”. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

 

A close ally of chancellor Angela Merkel has ruled out allowing Germany to follow the Irish example on marriage equality, saying “marriage is ... the union of man and woman”.

Volker Kauder, the CDU’s Bundestag spokesman and a practising Catholic, said the party rejected marriage equality because “I don’t view full adoption rights for [same-sex] partners as right”.

Mr Kauder’s remarks to the Frankfurter Allgemeine daily, likely to have been closely co-ordinated with the chancellery, take a more negative view of the Irish vote than the initial reaction by Dr Merkel’s party, when general secretary Peter Tauber said the “referendum in Ireland has been watched and discussed closely – in the CDU too”.

The remarks by the 65-year-old Mr Kauder come as Dr Merkel performs a delicate balancing act between modernising and traditional conservative camps in her party.

After a recent series of measures to pull her party to the political centre – abolishing both compulsory military service and nuclear power – Dr Merkel fears a conservative revolt if she touches marriage equality now.

Younger CDU figures say that, by reacting rather than acting on this and other social issues, the party is losing support in urban areas. They want the party to follow the British conservatives and embrace marriage equality as a stabilising, conservative force for good in society.

The 35-year-old MP Jens Spahn, the first openly gay member of the CDU governing board, has urged his party to move forward, saying that “what the Catholic Irish can do, we can, too”.

Even one of Mr Kauder’s own deputies has contradicted her boss. The 31-year-old Nadine Schön called for an “intensive” debate on the marriage equality issue, on which she said she was “personally quite open”.

Inner-party divisions on this issue are not new in the CDU. Three ears ago a party conference motion calling for the equal treatment of gay couples in tax law was voted down, yet attracted 40 per cent support. Soon after, Germany’s constitutional court ruled the practice discriminatory and forced the CDU-lead government in Berlin to legislate anyway to close the gap in tax law with heterosexual married couples.

Since its introduction in 2001 German same-sex civil partnerships have been upgraded several times in the statute books. Today the only major difference to marriage remains joint adoption. But key changes have often been forced by the courts rather than politicians. Germany’s post-war basic law makes does not define marriage as a union between a man and woman, meaning marriage equality depends on a Bundestag vote on legislation.

Well-placed political strategists in Berlin suggest Dr Merkel will eventually back marriage equality in one of two scenarios. The first, in a bid to out-manoeuvre the Social Democrats and Greens as she did on nuclear power after the Fukushima accident in Japan. Or else she will keep marriage equality up her sleeve as a sweetener for a potential coalition with the Green Party after the next federal election, scheduled for 2017.

But senior Green Party figures are doubtful the German leader will be allowed wait that long.

Green MP Volker Beck, a long-time gay rights campaigner, said: “If, after Ireland, the US supreme court rules in favour of marriage equality this month then Germany will really appear out of touch.”