Weakening Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage
With support for Chancellor Merkel's official opposition to the legalisation of gay marriage exceedingly low amongst the German public, many Christian Democrats, who are seen as the last barrier to the legalisation of gay marriage in Germany, are showing signs of switching sides on the issue.
Same-sex unions, of which there were 23,000 in Germany in 2010, already benefit from many of the same rights as married couples. They are entitled to inheritance, health insurance and certain adoption rights, though they are still excluded from all the tax benefits that are afforded to married couples, cannot jointly adopt children, and are exempt from being legally described as a "married couple."
Same-sex marriage was first proposed by the Social Democrats in 2004. In 2011 the Hamburg Senate announced its plans to introduce a same-sex marriage bill at federal government level. Even the Federal Constitutional Court ruled in 2009 that all rights currently afforded to married couples should be extended to same-sex unions.
Yet, due to staunch and steady opposition from the Christian Democrats and their sister party the CSU, who together hold nearly 35% of the seats in federal government, legalisation of same-sex marriage has never passed in the Bundesrat, despite the issue being put to a vote as recently as September 2010 and June 2012.
Now, however, with a federal election approaching, and a poll just revealing that 74% of Germans support gay marriage, and that 66% of Merkel's supporters actually disagree with her on this particular issue, the CDU is doing some shuffling about the issue.
A further push came when the Federal Constitutional Court ruled in February this year that more tax benefits should be extended to same-sex couples. In response, CDU parliamentary whip Michael Grosse-Bromer stated that the party must act immediately to ratify the Court's decision. Merkel herself indicated that she would support ratifying the decision, though she did not follow through.
Additionally, several members of the CDU actually publicly stated that they were considering signing a petition with members from opposition parties in support of gay marriage, an action completely out of line with their party platform. "A multi-party group petition would be an option," stated CDU member Stefan Kaufmann.
Even the CDU's junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats, have openly supported gay marriage legalisation.
Gay marriage is not the only issue the CDU are changing their minds on. With an election in September, and support for Merkel's coalition having been shaken over the last few years by numerous unpopular bailouts for other countries, the CDU is also reconsidering their stance on atomic energy and military conscription. Some commentators, such as the Sudeutsche Zeitung, see this as the CDU surrendering to societal realities.
Nevertheless, several conservative voices still oppose the issue, and Spiegel Online columnist Jakob Augstein believes that many members of the CDU will not be so flexible. Alexander Dobrindt, the General Secretary of the CDU sister party, the Bavarian CSU, stated in response to any proposed change in the CDU's platform that the "shrill minority" of the 30,000 same sex couples should not be allowed to overrule the "silent majority" of Germany's 17 million heterosexual married couples.
There is also the possibility that all this is merely an election year ploy to make it seem that the CDU is going in a direction they really are not. Either way, the signs seem to be pointing towards increasing rights for same-sex unions and a path in the direction of legalising gay marriage. With eight European countries having already granted marriage rights to gay couples, three of which countries border Germany, this may not be such a distant dream.