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Friday 30 June 2017 will be remembered as the day Germany passed marriage equality. A country with a mixed past on LGBT issues, it came as a bit of a shock when Chancellor Angela Merkel partially changed her position on the issue. She announced that she would allow a free vote on marriage equality so German MPs could vote according to their conscience and not according to party lines.
There was a buzz at the beginning of the week when rumour spread that the vote would be called yesterday – a rumour that wasn’t confirmed until the night before.
In the morning, in one of the last acts of the current parliament before the general election which falls on 24 September, the Bundestag passed equal marriage by 393 to 226. A clear win off the back of public opinion, which showed support for the bill at over 80%.
I mentioned that Merkel only partially changed her mind. The Chancellor, who leads the Christian Democrats, voted against the bill herself despite discussing a dinner she had with a lesbian couple in her constituency who had fostered eight children. This meeting is thought to have relaxed Merkel’s position enough to call the vote.
Merkel may well be remembered as the Chancellor who voted against marriage equality due to her personal beliefs, yet she should and must get credit for calling the vote. She will be known as the Chancellor who passed marriage equality. I for one am not bitter or angry at her personal vote.
Before the vote date speculation I tweeted that I was a huge fan of Merkel but that my one dissapointment was that she hadn’t called a vote on equal marriage despite national support. I am no longer dissapointed. It takes real leadership to admit when your personal choice clashes with the percieved will of the people that you represent. It takes real leadership to allow your fellow parliamentarians to make the decision that you can’t make alone.
Merkel could quite easily have continued with her position that she would not allow a vote on marriage equality, that civil unions were a satisfactory alternative. She could’ve been the sort of politician that preaches homophobia to her party and its members. She could’ve been a hypocritical MP abandoning her principles entirely just in the hope that she wins votes, yet she didn’t.
Yes, her reservations were known, yet they weren’t reservations that shaped her entire political agenda – unlike, for example, the Republican party in America, who in the last election argued for the repeal of equal marriage. There is a huge difference.
As I mentioned, Germany goes to the polls in September and Merkel looks set to win a fourth term as Chancellor. It could be argued that this move was political yet Merkel calling the vote demonstrates her liberalism. The fact that she voted against it may keep her Christian base happy alongside the liberal wing of the party.
Going into the election against Merkel’s party is the far right Alternative for Germany, standing on a platform against marriage equality. Coalitions are commonplace in Germany, and Merkel’s current partners and potential partners all stated no deal would be done unless marriage equality was on the table.
Merkel will no doubt be cementing her position as a leader who can appeal to all Germans. She has previously led the way on refugees, despite fierce opposition, and today proves that the cautious Chancellor is willing to listen and adjust her position. So is Merkel on the wrong side of history having voted against this bill? In my opinion no, for the reasons I outlined above. She was on the fair and open side of history.
I am so pleased for my German friends and all Germans. There is always a high level of emotion when a nation passes marriage equality alongside a high sense of pride. To Ms Merkel I say this: Thank you. Thank you for doing the right thing and thank you for allowing your MPs to make history.