gay marriage

The Limits of Equality

Wowi CSD picture alliance DPA
Some politicians have helped make homosexuality in politics more acceptable, like gay former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit (center)
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party is wrestling with the issue of same-sex marriage. The CDU has changed in recent years, and it’s no longer clear whether conservatives’ opposition to such marriages still rules the day.

  • Facts


    • In the wake of the recent Irish vote to legalize gay marriage, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition reportedly agreed last week to make some changes to Germany’s same-sex civil partnership rules.
    • Many conservatives among her center-right Christian Democrats are opposed to same-sex marriages.
    • Polls show a large majority of Germans favor the legalization of such unions.
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If German politican Volker Kauder encounters a problem soon, he could thank Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state who castigated Ireland’s recent vote in favor of gay marriage as a “defeat for humanity.”

Rome’s scathing condemnation led entire ranks of German Catholics to distance themselves from the harsh criticism.

Mr. Kauder, the leader of the Christian Democratic Union party in Germany’s parliament, last week told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, “I reject gay marriage, i.e. the definition of marriage to include same-sex unions.”

His opinion may not be widely shared; polls show many Germans support equal rights for same-sex couples. On Monday, Chancellor Merkel received a petition signed by more than 150 stars, actors and other public figures from sport, politics and academia calling for a Bundestag vote on equal marriage rights without politicians being subject to party discipline.

“It is a question of conscience, not a party decision,” the writers of the letter argued.

“I advocate a redefinition of marriage to include homosexual couples.”

Nadine Schön, CDU politician

“This is no longer about rights for a minority but about our shared understanding of equality, freedom and justice. For more and more people – by now the majority of our society – equality is only possible when love is not measured by double standards,” said Vincent-Immanuel Herr and Martin Speer, the organizers of the letter.

Following the referendum in Ireland in which 62 percent of voters called for the constitution to be changed so same-sex couples could marry, there have been calls for a referendum in Germany.

This has met a negative response so far, though the social democrats, the junior party in the governing coalition, support the issue – and the CDU is divided.

In response to the letter, “The government’s clear goal is not to discriminate against life partnerships. That doesn’t mean making them equal to marriage,” said Steffen Seibert, spokesperson for the Chancellor who is from the center-right Christian Democrat party. He said there were important differences between the two, “based on our country’s traditions and cultural and religious foundations.”

On Monday, Jens Spahn, a member of the CDU executive board, disgreed. “We should be proud rather than fearful,” he said and he warned his party against alienating not only gays and lesbians but also their families and friends.

“We have to free ourselves from reacting defensively all the time,” Mr. Spahn said.

Until a few years ago, self-professed conservative Mr. Kauder could have been sure he was speaking for a majority of the CDU party. That’s no longer the case. Two of his deputies in party leadership are calling for a reevaluation of the question. Nadine Schön, at age 30 the top family-affairs politician in the CDU, said plainly, “I advocate a redefinition of marriage to include homosexual couples,” to the magazine Focus.

Another CDU politician, Thomas Strobl, who specializes in domestic policy, was more circumspect. He said the CDU should engage in reflection and discussion regarding its notion of marriage and the family in the 21st century. For her part, Ms. Schön has thinks this debate would be best suited to the next party congress, next fall.

That might give members a sense of déjà-vu. It was late on December 3, 2012, when, at the CDU congress in Hanover, a controversial point on the day’s agenda came up for discussion: equivalent tax status for same-sex and couples in traditional marriages — yes or no? This relatively technical issue ignited a far-reaching discussion about the CDU’s notion of marriage and the family. About 40 percent of delegates advocated tax equality, so in the end, the party convention rejected the proposal.

How the vote would turn out today is anyone’s guess; some things have changed significantly since then. Some top CDU officials are gay. About half a year after the vote in Hanover, the Federal Constitutional Court decreed exactly what the CDU majority had rejected. Splitting the difference in spousal income allowed under German tax law also applies to same-sex couples with regard to taxation; anything else would be a violation of the provision for equality in Germany’s Basic Law.

Using the same justification, the constitutional judges also overturned another obstacle for homosexual couples that same year. The court decided to allow successive adoption, meaning when a partner brings an adopted child into a registered civil partnership, the other gay partner is allowed to adopt the child as well.

The decision has weighty significance for the CDU’s current debate. The German Cabinet began a legislative process on Wednesday that would establish equality in many aspects of marriage and civil partnerships. Essentially all that remains is one fundamental difference, and Mr. Volker bases his opposition on it. He doesn’t think full adoption by same-sex partners is right.

Some of his CDU colleagues agree. During the congress debate in 2012, some proponents of tax equality said adoption rights were not up for discussion — because they also saw a limit.

Justifying that limit, however, is a daunting task. When Guide Wolf, the leading candidate of the CDU in the state of Baden-Württemberg, cited the “plan of creation” as contradicting that sort of adoption right, he was greeted with embarrassed silence. There is a considerable minority in the CDU that thinks in the same stark Parolinian categories as Mr. Wolf, but today few dare to voice that opinion.

Mr. Kauder argues not with the Bible but about the welfare of children, saying their well-being has precedence over the self-realization of homosexual couples. But after listening to experts’ testimony, the constitutional judges stated in their adoption decision that growing up with two fathers or two mothers doesn’t harm a child. The court also expressly left open the issue about whether the prohibition against full adoption is anti-constitutional. But the indication that “compelling factual reason” must exist in order to justify a disadvantaging of comparable unions is a broad hint as to the court’s thinking in the matter.

Mr. Kauder also seeks to buttress his position by arguing that marriage and civil unions cannot enjoy the same standing simply by enacting a law, but only through a change to the constitution. He doesn’t see a majority in the Bundestag, or lower house of the federal parliament, in favor of this position. That might be correct, if only because of the CDU. But this also reveals Mr. Kauder’s predicament. If a CDU party congress were to decide in favor of the Irish model, the leader of its parliamentary party would suddenly cut quite a lonely figure.


Video:  Following the Yes vote in Ireland.

This article originally appeared in Tagesspiegel. To contact the author:

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