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German social democrats eager to push same-sex marriage bill ahead of election

With the current legislative period approaching its climax, time is running out for the Social Democratic Party (SPD) to push through a same-sex marriage bill. Their conservative coalition partners remain on the fence.

Party heads from the SPD will look to push a marriage equality bill into law when they meet with their conservative coalition partners on Wednesday.

With only five more coalition summits scheduled before the end of the current legislative period in July, the SPD is under time pressure to get the bill through. Parliament will disband in the summer and then parties will begin campaigning ahead of September's general election.

From September onwards, the SPD may no longer boast any power, which is why they have put the issue at the top of Wednesday's agenda.

Any chance of the bill becoming law could be slim, however. The SPD's senior coalition partners - Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Party (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) - will most likely stymie the proposal.

Not quite equal

Recent legislature has gradually granted more recognition to same-sex couples. Those in civil unions or "registered life partnership," per the verbatim translation, can enjoy many of the same rights and obligations as married heterosexual couples in areas such as inheritance, immigration and tax benefits.

However, the CDU/CSU Union, Germany's largest party in the Bundestag since 2005, has also blocked a number of equality bills, including one that would allow civil unions to adopt children.

A small circle of detractors

"I hope the CDU and CSU will finally jump out of their shadows" (a German expression meaning to swallow one's pride and overcome inhibitions), SPD Parliamentary Chairman Thomas Oppermann told reporters Tuesday. "Marriage should not be a question of gender, but should come down to whether a couple wants to commit and take responsibility for each other."

The proposal would have thebacking of most of the Bundestag, the Bundesrat(parliament's upper chamber) and the majority of the population, according Green party lawmaker Volker Beck. "It's only the Union members who are permanently stuck in the past who are denying equal rights for equal love."

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The conservative caucus leader Michael Grosse-Brömer said the chance of reaching an agreement before the summer break was slim, while Gerda Hasselfeldt, a high-ranking CSU parliamentarian, maintained her party's position that marriages and same-sex partnerships were "equal' but "not the same."

CDU lawmaker Stefan Kaufmann called out the SPD's equality bill an "election maneuver." Despite being in a same-sex partnership himself and admitting that many CDU lawmakers favor marriage equality, Kaufmann said the Union would not yield to every one of the SPD's demands.

An electoral theme

Last week, SPD election candidate and Merkel rival Martin Schulz pledged to make the equal legal standing of homosexuals a key theme in this year's national election. 

Polls suggest that the SPD has public opinion on its side. A study published in January by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency revealed that 83 percent of respondents in Germany supported same-sex marriage. 

Fourteen EU countries have legalized same-sex marriage, including France, Spain, Portugal and the Benelux countries.

dm/jm (dpa, KNA, AFP)

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