As one of the first countries worldwide, Germany introduced gay civil partnerships (“eingetragene Lebenspartnerschaften”) in 2001, granting same-sex couples similar rights to their married heterosexual counterparts. The new legislation meant that same-sex life-partners could no longer not be considered next of kin. They are now entitled to receive information about their partner in an emergency and can no longer be turned away from their hospital bedside. Being “verpartnert”, to use the neologism which was quickly coined, also makes it easier for gays and lesbians to leave their estate to their partner when they die.
But two big differences still remain, making the so-called “Homo-Ehe” (gay marriage) not quite a “real” marriage, with exactly the same rights and advantages that heterosexual married couples enjoy.
First of all, homosexual couples, despite being allowed to raise children, biological or adopted, do not have the right to adopt as couples. Equal parenting rights are not granted to both partners.
Second of all, civilly partnered couples do not enjoy to a special tax break referred to as “Ehegatten-Splitting”. Currently, married couples – irrespective of whether they have children – can save taxes by declaring a joint income and applying for a low tax code for the higher earning partner (usually the husband). This rule has long been at the centre of heated debate but it has so far resisted all attempts at having it abolished. Now, an initiative supported by politicians from both the Christian Democrats (CDU, Angela Merkel’s party) and their junior coalition partner the Free Democrats (FDP), has been launched to give homosexual couples access to Ehegatten-Splitting. Supporters include Family Minister Kristina Schröder (CDU) and Vice Chancellor and Leader of the FDP Philipp Rösler. Unsurprisingly, critics have commented on the bad timing of raising this in the middle of the holiday season. However, one major opponent, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU), has already found time away from the beach to voice his strong disapproval and reject the initiative.
Opponents of equal rights for same-sex couples usually refer to a clause in the German constitutional law, the “Grundgesetz”, which guarantees special support and protection for families. However, the definition of what constitutes a family is an evolving concept, and conservative critics may soon find that by challenging the right of same-sex couples to gain access to the same privileges that heterosexual marriages enjoy, they are clinging to an outdated and fundamentally discriminatory idea.