Gay rights could become a top political issue in Germany after Guido Westerwelle, leader of the Free Democrats, acknowledged his homosexuality for the first time and urged greater equality for same sex couples.
"We cannot go back to the 1950s"
Earlier this week the leader of the neo-liberal Free Democrats Party came out in the open on his homosexuality in a highly publicized media campaign that pushed the subject of gay rights to the front of major newspapers. Speaking out on the issue for the first time on Saturday, Guido Westerwelle told the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel that the country needed to do more to promote equality for gay couples.
Germany needs to be more tolerant on homosexuality, the opposition politician said. "I support more understanding on the issue," he told the magazine in its upcoming edition.
Westerwelle said gay couples should have the right to adopt any child and not, as in a law proposed by the government, only the legal child of one partner. They should also be entitled to the same tax breaks as married couples, he said.
More equal rights
Germany has allowed same-sex partnerships with some legal rights since 2001 but they do not go as far as marriage. Draft legislation presented by the coalition government of Social Democrats and Greens will extend gay partners' rights, but Westerwelle dismissed the proposals as half measures.
"At the moment same-sex partnerships have a lot of duties, for example the requirement to assist a partner financially in terms of social welfare. At the same time, the deserved rights are being denied. That cannot be fair," he argued.
Westerwelle also urged equal application of tax law to include the same benefits enjoyed by married couples. In this area, the government has only gone half way, he said.
Clash of cultures
Opposition party leaders: FDP, Guido Westerwelle, (left); CDU, Angela Merkel, (mid); and CSU, Edmund Stoiber (right).
In the interview Westerwelle sought to play down the political consequences of coming out, a move Der Spiegel said could lead to a "clash of cultures" with the more traditional thinking of someone like Edmund Stoiber, head of the Christian Social Union. The magazine noted that some members in the CSU viewed homosexuality as perverse and cited Stoiber once saying Germany could talk about devil worship if it put gay partnerships on a par with marriage.
The FDP leader said he had already made it clear to leaders in the opposition and likely coalition partners on the national level that Germany needed to make more progress in gay rights and not reverse earlier legislation.
"The FDP will never back any political attempt to return society to the 1950s. On the contrary, we want to achieve more progress," he said.