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Germany

German Bundesrat backs gay marriage

Representatives of Germany's state governments have pressured Berlin to allow marriage for same-sex couples - and give them full adoption rights. But not everyone is behind the move toward equality, reports Naomi Conrad.

Outside of the Bundesrat on Friday, demonstrators cheerfully waved their rainbow flags and posed for photographers, holding bright pink signs with the slogan "Marriage for All." Passing drivers honked their horns, as the demonstrators laughed and waved back.

Inside, the Bundesrat - Germany's upper house of parliament, which represents the 16 states but doesn't pass legislation - was set to discuss a resolution that would allow same-sex couples to marry and adopt children.

"It's preposterous that legislative inequality for diverse relationships still exists in 2015," said Daniel Gollasch, one of the demonstrators, holding a cardboard sign with the words "No half measures" written on it. Gollasch, an eloquent man in his late 20s, shook his head. "The time to reflect is over. Now, it's time to act."

Germany introduced civil unions for same-sex couples in 2001. Since then, their rights have slowly been increased and today, many are on par with the rights of heterosexual spouses - inheritance law, for example. Yet differences still exist: same-sex couples are not able to adopt children together.

Deutschland Demonstration vor dem Bundesrat in Berlin

Demonstrators held bright pink signs with the slogan "Marriage for All"

Ostracized not long ago

As the debate began inside, Malu Dreyer, the Social Democrat (SPD) state premier of Rhineland-Palatinate, called that difference an obvious discrimination, claiming that there was no reason to deprive gays and lesbians of complete equality.

Winfried Kretschmann, the Green Party state premier of Baden-Württemberg, said that no person should be marginalized and that, as a Catholic, he felt comfortable with this opinion, even though the church wouldn't agree.

Speakers went on to point out that there were no findings to show that same-sex parents were harmful to a child's welfare. "Mere speculation" didn't justify a complete denial of adoption rights.

Thuringia's state premier Bodo Ramelow, a leader of the Left party, reminded the assembly that during the Nazi era people were "driven to their death" because of their sexual orientation.

Persecution and ostracism remained until relatively recently. Until the late 1960s, homosexuality was still a criminal offence in Germany; paragraph 175, the law condemning homosexuality, was only abolished after German reunification in 1994.

Deutschland Demonstration vor dem Bundesrat in Berlin

During the Nazi era, people were "driven to their death" because of their sexual orientation

Bavaria firmly against

Bavaria's Justice Minister Winfried Bausback was the only one to speak out against the resolution on gay marriage, an initiative which has been backed by 10 German states. The conservative politician said that allowing everyone to marry would be taking things too far, "treating equally that which is not equal."

To Bausback, marriage is a foundation for families with biological offspring. According to him, marriage and civil partnerships are "not the same, and it would be good to keep them apart." Bavaria is one of the states rejecting the move toward same-sex marriage, a view criticized as "outdated" by Barbara Steffens, the health minister for North Rhine-Westphalia.

Pressure mounting

The debate was briefly interrupted to greet a delegation from Mali, where homosexuality is not outlawed, but still socially frowned upon - in contrast to many other African countries. As the visitors huddled silently around their translator, the debate's final speaker, Green politician Katharina Fegebank of Hamburg, asked the assembly what would change for heterosexual couples if gay marriage were allowed. The answer was obvious: nothing.

A short time later, a majority supported the resolution, increasing the pressure on the federal government. Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition is divided: the Social Democrats are for same-sex marriage, but Merkel's Christian Democrats remain opposed.

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