Germany legalized gay marriage today following a vote in its parliament. In Western Europe, Switzerland is now the only country that allows gay civil partnerships but not marriages.
Today’s vote came as a surprise as it was not supposed to happen in the first place. Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian-Democrat and Christian-Social Union (CDU/CSU) is currently governing through a coalition in the Bundestag (German parliament) with the center-left Social-Democrat SPD. Both parties had agreed to not put the issue of equal marriage on the table, as the CDU/CSU had refused to accept it due to its Christian tenets.
Then this week, the Social-Democrats came out and declared that gay marriage needed to be on the table “right now,” catching its center-right coalition partner off guard. Angela Merkel reiterated her position, that she supports adoption rights for gay couples but believes that “marriage is between a man and a woman.” However, she allowed a vote to go through and didn’t ask for party coherence: MPs of the CDU/CSU were, according to her, “free to vote their conscience.”
The decision by the SPD to set the agenda very suddenly is, of course, not without its political strategy: today is the last day of the German parliament session before September, which is just before the election. Together, with the votes of the Green Party and the far-left Die Linke, the pro-equal marriage MP’s had found a majority to put Merkel in a minority. When the bill passed today, it was with 393 votes in favor and 226 vote against.
The Social-Democrats claimed victory, castigating Merkel for not allowing a vote on this topic for years, though ironically they hadn’t pressured her on the issue since coming into office in 2013. MPs of the Green Party celebrated the vote by throwing rainbow-colored confetti in the air, though the Greens’ silence on the topic had been deafening when they participated in a governing majority in 1998 and 2005.
The vote today will definitely have an impact on the election. Volker Kauder, chairman of Merkel’s center-right party, accused its Social Democrat coalition partner of a calculated “breach of trust.” However, while Merkel and her party are polling very well at the moment, with some polls putting them over 40 percent of the vote, there are no realistic chances for her party to revoke this decision. Another possible coalition partner after September (depending on its share of the vote) is the Liberal Democrat FDP, and they’ve already voiced their support for equal marriage.
The discussion surrounding gay marriage remains that of governmental control. This time-consuming process raises the question of why marriage should be in the hands of government in the first place. Marriage is either a contract defining how two people want to spend their lives together or a religious institution that binds people of faith in their own spiritual beliefs. By meddling in the formation of contracts between consenting individuals and the right of religious organizations to set their own standards of morality, the government creates division where none is needed in the first place.
Until countries get government out of the business of marriage, there can be little expectation of reconciliation.