By Karan Kochhar
At a talk show, while responding to a general query about legalising same-sex marriages, Angela Merkel discussed how her interaction with a lesbian couple changed her view. Barely four days later, Merkel organised a snap vote for legalising same-sex marriages in Germany. The landmark bill won the backing of 393 lawmakers against the 226 who voted against it. Angela Merkel, however, surprised everyone when she herself voted against the bill.
Though the bill has to be passed by the upper house and ratified by the President, analysts say that it is just a formality before Germany legalises marriage between same sexes. The swiftness with which the vote was carried out and its result has left the German gay community in a state of disbelief. Scores of people came to street donning rainbow colours to celebrate the passage of the bill.
Moving towards liberal values
It must be kept in mind that Germany already recognises same-sex relationships as civil unions and has expanded the rights granted to couples. However, by allowing the lawmakers to vote, Angela Merkel has made a strategic move in the wake of the upcoming general elections in September.
In recent past, Angela Merkel has become a front runner in espousing liberal values. During the Middle Eastern refugee crises, while the rest of Europe closed its doors, she opened Germany’s border to millions of refugees. Also, during the Brexit referendum, she urged British citizens to vote to remain in the EU. She also very strategically refrained from advocating the extreme right wing virtues of Donald Trump.
A balancing act?
However, on Friday, she voted against the very same-sex marriage legislation that she had introduced for voting. Her vacillating position can be seen as a move to appease both coalition members as well as her own party members.
Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats Union (CDU) along with their Bavarian sister, the Christian Social Union (CSU), have consistently prevented the law from being passed. On the other hand, Merkel’s current coalition partner, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) is an ardent supporter of same-sex marriage.
Not only the SPD, all the major parties with which the CDU can form a possible coalition are in favour of same-sex marriage. By allowing the vote to happen despite opposing it, Merkel has appealed to the majority voters while avoiding the loss of support within her own party.
Evolving step by step
For a heterosexual couple to be recognised as a family unit under the law, marrying is the only option. However, prior to 2001, there was no such provision for same-sex couples. This changed under the chancellorship of Gerhard Schröder, who enacted the ‘registered civil partnership’ legislation. The legislation granted same-sex couples similar rights as a legally married couple. Although adoption and taxation were issues of contention, the legislation was hailed as a progressive movement.
Over the course of time, the law was amended to strike a balance between the rights granted to registered partners and legally married couples. In 2013, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that the country’s same-sex couples were entitled to the same tax benefits as legally married couples. The tax benefits have allowed gay couples to jointly declare their incomes and has resulted in higher savings.
In the same year, the court also allowed successive adoptions as an option for same-sex couples. Under successive adoption, one member of a civil partnership is allowed to adopt the natural or adopted child of the second member. Until then, the law only allowed the adoption of the second member’s biological child.
Are marriage and adoption not for homosexuals?
While the earlier law had declared same-sex couples as civil unions, the German Government had deprived them of the fundamental right to marry. Although civil unions are ‘functional’ and give equal benefits, they are instruments of neo-homophobia, essentially unwilling to recognise the legitimacy of the relationship between people of the same By legalising same-sex marriages, lawmakers have shed the image of a ‘moral’ police. The institution of marriage, that carries a sense of security, will now be granted to same-sex couples.
Apart from the right to marriage, same-sex couples will also be granted the right to jointly adopt a child. This was a right that was previously reserved only for heterosexual couples. This discriminated against same-sex couples, essentially labelling them as unfit to raise kids.
With this bill, Germany has joined the ranks of the twenty-three other countries that have legalised same-sex marriages. While tangible benefits of the legalisation are a few, the bill has been hailed as a landmark victory for the LGBTQ community. The bill broadens the concept of marriage that was earlier only recognised as an alliance between man and women. However, one has to remain circumspect of the possible attempt to appeal the new law.
As far Angela Merkel is concerned, she just might have played a master stroke as the parliament breaks for upcoming election campaigns. Her decision to hold the vote should inevitably cause some rift within her own party. However, while older alliances break, newer ones must have forged for Merkel. The Social Democrats or the Green Party should recognise that her ‘no’ vote is not a refusal to espouse liberal values. Rather, it is a political game to remain in power.
Featured Image Credit: Visual Hunt
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius