The majority party of Bavaria, the Christian Social Union, has for the first time recognized that some gay relationships have value, although equating them with traditional marriage remains out of the question.
The CSU appears a little more tolerant of gay Bavarians these days
The recognition, which is seen by some as a long-overdue wake-up to reality and by others as a danger to the traditional family, comes in the form of a draft policy statement released by the Christian Social Union (CSU) on Monday.
In the eight-page section on family policy, the party in power for decades in largely Catholic, widely conservative Bavaria rejects the idea of giving same-sex partnerships the same legal foundation as a marriage between a man and a women, or allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children. But it does say the party "acknowledges (same-sex relationships), when people in these partnerships can rely on each other to take responsibility and care for one another."
At a press conference on Monday in Munich, where the policy position was presented, the head of the policy committee, Alois Glück, said the CSU wanted its new position regarding gay relationships to reflect today's reality.
"The message is, the CSU has a realistic and contemporary view on the family, but one which is also values oriented," he said.
Bavaria's capital Munich is pretty gay friendly -- the hinterlands less so
The position is a nuanced once, which attempts to acknowledge that gay relationships do exist, and that they can have worth, but still firmly putting itself on the side of a traditional view of the family: mother, father and children.
"We want to show that we respect the values which are lived in these partnerships," said deputy party chief Beate Merk in an interview on Bavarian radio, referring to same-sex couples. "But we want to be clear, that only extends to a certain point."
In the last such policy position statement by the CSU, from 1993, gays and lesbians were not mentioned.
The CSU and gays
Some might question the significance of these cautious, almost guarded statements on the issue in a country where same-sex partnerships can be legally recognized. But it marks the first time the conservative CSU has addressed the topic in anything but fairly negative terms.
Franz Josef Strauss, long-time, respected CSU premier of the state of Bavaria who was often referred to as the "strong man of Europe," famously told Die Zeit newspaper in 1971 that he'd rather be a "cold warrior than a warm brother." (The latter expression is a pejorative expression for a gay man.)
Edmund Stoiber has always stressed tradition
The CSU's current head, Edmund Stoiber, once refused to talk about "these partnerships," saying if he did, he might as well start worshipping the devil.
"He probably wouldn't talk like that that today, but the CSU has traditionally had, shall we say, a problematic attitude," said Hellmuth Pusch, head of the Bavarian section of the Lesbian and Gay Association of Germany. "Now we see that some rethinking is taking place."
Still, he and other gay groups do not feel like the party has gone as far as it should. While the new positioning is a slight change, Pusch says Bavaria and CSU are still far behind the rest of Germany when it comes to accepting homosexuality. Bavaria was one of the German federal states that went to Germany's highest court to try to block the law allowing registered same-sex partnerships and it is still one of the only states not to allow those partnerships to be registered at the registry office like heterosexual marriages, but requires couples to go to a notary.
"But this is a beginning," he said. "The CSU is are on the right path and we welcome that."
Voters on their minds?
While some in the CSU might feel its time to jettison, or at least revisit, some traditionalist viewpoints, others see political motives behind the party's decision. The left-wing taz daily, known for its clever headlines, entitled its story on the new policy "CSU Hot for Gay Voters."
A same-sex couple at a registry office in Hannover
While that might be an exaggeration, it is a fact that the CSU is finding its decades-long dominance of Bavarian politics slipping a little. It still got 62 percent of the vote in the last election, but the larger cities in Bavaria such as Munich, Nuremberg and Augsburg, are all governed by the SPD.
"In general, a party which formulates policies that don't reflect life's realities will lose more and more voters," said Axel Hochrein, head of the Bavarian branch of the LSU, a group representing gays and lesbians in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the CSU.
The CSU's tentative warming up to gays and lesbians does not sit well with everyone in the party. A group of eight CSU parliamentarians has released a statement warning that the party should not "weaken" its position of privileging traditional marriage. According to the statement, children need a "father and mother in their different gender roles."
Four of the eight lawmakers expressing these conservative sentiments were born in or after 1970.
"In the CSU, you can't judge by the age of politicians, but you have to look at what area they come from, rural or urban," said Hochrein. While members from the big Bavarian cities advocate for more acceptance, those from rural regions have much different ideas. "In the countryside, which is very Catholic and where the church has an enormous influence, even a single mother is still sometimes seen as scandalous," he said. "That is the balancing act the party has to deal with."