Two German men made history Sunday by
saying “ I do” and becoming the first same – sex
couple to marry after decades of struggle , but
campaigners say the battle for equal rights isn ’t
Wedding bells were to ring out in Berlin,
Hamburg, Hanover and other German cities
where local authorities have exceptionally
opened their doors on a Sunday, allowing
weddings on the day the law comes into effect.
Bodo Mende , 60 , and partner Karl Kreile, 59,
exchanged their vows at a desk decked out
with white flowers and rainbow flags .
Then, they turned to offer a shot of their first
embrace as a married couple to the throng of
photographers and TV crews from around the
world who packed the south Berlin registry
office alongside their friends and family.
“I ’m unbelievably satisfied , this is extremely
symbolic to be recognised as a completely
normal couple and no longer to have a second –
class marriage,” Kreile said after the two cut a
slice of rainbow cake .
Mende and Kreile , longtime gay marriage
campaigners who have been together since
1979, wanted to tie the knot as soon as possible
— after being among the first to enter a civil
partnership back in 2002 .
“This is a day we can really call historic,”
Angelika Schoettler , mayor of the capital ’s
Tempelhof-Schoeneberg district, told the pair.
“I hope a great many couples will seal a bond
for life in this room, or others like it . ”
The dash to exchange vows comes three
months after lawmakers voted to give
Germany’s roughly 94,000 same – sex couples
the right to marry , following a shift in position
by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Germany becomes the 15 th European nation to
legalise gay marriage.
The Netherlands led the way in 2000, followed
piecemeal by other European countries
including Spain, Sweden, Britain and France .
Same-sex relationships have become so
normalised that polls show around 75 percent
of Germans are in favour of gay marriage.
Merkel’s change of heart
By extending existing law to same -sex pairs,
Germany’s gay couples automatically gain the
same tax advantages and adoption rights as
heterosexual families .
Along with Germany’s Greens party, the gay
and lesbian rights organisation LSVD began its
battle for equal marriage rights around the
year 1990 .
But progress was slow and since 2001 gay
couples have had to make do with a civil
partnership law, broadened over the years to
remove more and more gaps between gay and
straight couples ’ rights.
The final breakthrough came quite suddenly in
the end, sparked by Merkel’s unexpected
announcement in June that she would allow
her conservative MPs to vote their conscience
on the issue.
Merkel said her thinking changed after a
“memorable experience” when she met a
lesbian couple who lovingly care for eight
foster children in her Baltic coast constituency.
Her surprise shift in position after 12 years of
blockade by her Christian Democrats and their
Bavarian allies — was seen by some as a cynical
ploy to rob her challengers of a popular cause
ahead of September’s general election.
The chancellor herself voted against the bill,
arguing that the German constitution still
defines marriage as “the union of a man and a
“I still think it was indecent to delay for so
many years, and the fact that she voted no ,”
lawmaker Johannes Kahrs, gay and lesbian
affairs commissioner for the Social Democratic
Party, told AFP.
June was a memorable month for gay rights in
Germany, as MPs also voted to quash the
convictions of thousands of men convicted
under a Nazi -era law against same -sex
relationships which had remained on the
statute book until 1994 .
But there are still an array of issues familiar
across Western democracies, like blood
donations or access to reproductive medicine,
where homosexuals can be treated differently.
And the constitution must still be amended to
fully protect against discrimination over
gender or sexual orientation , Kahrs insisted.
“These are all things that we ’ll tackle bit by
bit,” he said. ”The important thing is that we ’ve
pushed through the opening of marriage , and
that’s the signal everyone needed .”