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Angela Merkel Eases Resistance to Same-Sex Marriage in Germany

Ms. Merkel’s challenger from the Social Democrats, Martin Schulz, demanded that the chancellor allow a parliamentary vote, and that is likely to come this week; if it does, the measure is almost certain to pass.

Ms. Merkel is known as a tactical politician who is not averse to shifting her party’s stance on important issues if she thinks it will gain her votes, and she appeared to be bowing to political pressure in allowing lawmakers to cast their ballot as a “vote of conscience.”

Ms. Merkel’s comments came on Monday during a relaxed interview with journalists from Brigitte, one of Germany’s best-selling glossy magazines for women, when she was asked by an audience member about the growing demands to recognize same-sex marriage.

The chancellor prevaricated, reciting the familiar factors, including Christian belief, that influenced people’s positions on the issue, and she lamented the over-politicization of the debate.

But, she added, “I would like to lead the discussion more into a situation where it is a question of conscience rather than something I push through with a majority vote.”

Support for same-sex marriage in Germany is widespread. In a YouGov poll conducted in May, 66 percent of 1,099 respondents favored permitting same-sex marriage, and a narrower majority, 57 percent, favored allowing adoption by gay couples.

Germany recognized civil unions for gay and lesbian couples in 2001. Over the years, and via several court decisions, those couples have won a series of court rulings, including the ability to inherit goods and property. But they have not, so far, won the right to adopt.

Peter Ramsauer, a former cabinet minister and a legislator for the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, rejected outright the need for a vote.

“Germany has more paramount issues to address,” Mr. Ramsauer said, warning his Christian Democratic Union partners to “be careful not to destroy the last conservative values.”

But Stefan Kaufmann, an openly gay legislator for the Christian Democrats, said that he hoped Parliament would vote on the issue this week. “This is a sign that my party is changing,” Mr. Kaufmann said, estimating that about 40 percent of his Christian Democratic colleagues favored allowing same-sex marriage.

Ms. Merkel, when asked Monday evening about gay adoption, cited what she said was a recent meeting with a lesbian who invited the chancellor to visit her and her partner’s home in Ms. Merkel’s parliamentary constituency in northern Germany, where the couple has raised at least eight foster children.

The chancellor said she had not had time to take up the invitation, but she used it as a way to illustrate that it may often be better for children to live permanently with a loving couple no matter what their sex, rather than moving from home to home in foster care.

The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency of Germany backed Ms. Merkel’s change in approach. “This is not a controversial issue,” Christine Lüders, the director of the agency, said. “I think this position was long overdue, and gays and lesbians should not have to wait for several months until after the election. The vote for marriage equality can be held this week.”

Axel Hochrein, a board member of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, attributed Ms. Merkel’s shift to the pressure from other established parties.

“This shows that the political and social pressure on the government had become so big that she had to react,” Mr. Hochrein said. “With three possible coalition partners now declaring that the opening of marriage must be in the coalition contract, perhaps she wants to solve the problem before it appears after the election.”

Volker Beck, a well-known campaigner for gay rights and a Green Party lawmaker in Parliament, argued that Ms. Merkel had been compelled to shift after the Greens, the Social Democrats and the Liberal Democrats all said there could be no coalition without gay marriage.

“This means she has nothing to win on the issue,” Mr. Beck said. “Before getting trapped in this ‘lose lose’ situation, she has decided to step aside and say ‘O.K., let’s just decide in Parliament on the question of conscience, everyone is free to vote.’”

Source: NYT > World

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