The country’s normally staid politics were jolted in the direction of approving gay marriage last weekend, when two major political parties said they would make the legislation a condition of any future coalition agreement with the Christian Democrats, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is seeking a fourth term in the general election in September.
Ms. Merkel reacted swiftly by abandoning her party’s stance against same-sex marriage and freeing individual lawmakers to vote on the issue as they saw fit, advocating a vote that “is a question of conscience, rather than something I push through with a majority vote.”
Ms. Merkel voted against the measure Friday, but the final result left gay-rights groups jubilant, and they said approval of the measure marked a turning point.
“It’s very positive for the self-esteem of gays and lesbians; it’s very important for people coming out, knowing that they have this equality; and it sends a clear message to any homophobic refugees coming to Germany: We have equality here,” said Arnd Bächler, a counselor and addiction therapist at Berlin’s gay counseling center.
Approval of same-sex marriage in Germany could build momentum for similar legislation in other German-speaking countries, like Austria and Switzerland, said Katrin Hugendubel, advocacy director of ILGA-Europe, a gay and transgender rights group. She said the developments in Germany illustrated the difference that opposition parties can make.
“For us, the most important lesson is for the opposition to be very outspoken in supporting L.G.B.T.I. rights,” Ms. Hugendubel said. “The Social Democrats’ and the Greens’ making it a coalition condition raised the pressure on the conservatives, so it’s very important that those in favor across Europe make it a condition, and be very strong in their support.”
During the debate on Friday, some of the more conservative members of Ms. Merkel’s wing defended marriage as a union between men and women and argued that the law is on uncertain legal ground. Gerda Hasselfeldt, who heads the Christian Social Union in parliament, argued that while all Germans deserved respect, conventional marriage was the foundation of family-life and was the “basis of order in our state.”
“To me it remains clear that same sex partnership is not the same thing as a marriage. In our cultural circles, marriage has for centuries been a union between man and woman,”…