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German Chancellor Angela Merkel paves a path toward gay marriage

UPDATED: Tue., June 27, 2017

A Friday, June 23, 2017, file photo of German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking during a media conference at an EU summit in Brussels. (Olivier Matthys / Associated Press)
A Friday, June 23, 2017, file photo of German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking during a media conference at an EU summit in Brussels. (Olivier Matthys / Associated Press)
By David Francis Foreign Policy

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has signaled a shift on gay marriage, calling for a vote in parliament on legalizing same-sex unions.

On Monday evening, speaking at an event organized by the magazine Brigitte, Merkel surprised the audience when she said lawmakers should decide whether to bring Germany in line with most Western nations, including the United States, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain and the U.K. The chancellor, who is up for re-election this fall, said same-sex marriage was “a really personal matter.”

Merkel’s shift is as much a political one as a personal one. Opposition parties in Germany – the Social Democrats, the German Greens and the liberal Free Democratic party – all back same-sex marriage. They have made it a condition for joining a coalition after the Sept. 24 election Merkel is expected to win. Her main challenger, SPD leader Martin Schulz, has attacked Merkel for her opposition to gay marriage.

A poll conducted by Germany’s Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency last year found that 83 percent of Germans were in favor of same-sex marriage and 95 percent believed it was a good thing that gays and lesbians are legally protected from discrimination. But the same poll found that 20 percent of Germans consider homosexuality to be “unnatural.”

According to reports in German media, lawmakers from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) met with their partners from Bavaria, the Christian Socialist Union (CSU), on Sunday to discuss the shift. The conservative CSU has long-opposed gay marriage on the grounds that it damaged children.

This was Merkel’s position for years. During the 2013 election campaign, she expressed reservations about gay marriage, saying: “I am unsure what is good for the child, and this uncertainty I would simply like to be allowed to express without wanting to discriminate against anyone.”

However, Merkel now says that after visiting a lesbian couple that fostered eight children, “I can no longer argue so simply on the basis of children’s welfare.”

Still, Merkel’s allies warned Tuesday that a shift was not imminent. Michael Grosse-Brvmer, the CDU’s chief whip, said Tuesday morning he did not expect a vote on the subject until after the elections. “I would warn against rushing to a decision,” he told journalists in Berlin. “That would not be appropriate to the subject.”

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