German Chancellor Angela Merkel removed the previous requirement of party whip control on the issue of voting on gay marriage in Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag. In other words, members of the Bundestag will be allowed to vote on the issue on the basis of their own conscience and not be required to toe the party line of their political affiliation.
The chancellor herself worded the vote as a "question of conscience" during a TV interview the previous evening. The vote, which is likely to be tabled by Merkel's grand coalition partner, the Social Democrats, within days could likely see gay marriage become a reality in Germany before the September 24 elections. Merkel had, however, originally planned to bring the issue to a vote after the elections.
At present, gay and lesbian couples can opt to have a civil partnership, which afford many of the same benefits and protections as traditional marriage, but lacks equity between gay and straight couples in some key areas such as adoption rights.
The vote on gay marriage is considered likely to pass.
A question of conscience
The parliamentary leader of Merkel's CDU party Volker Kauder asked CDU members of the Bundestag to try to show up in numbers for the vote. He added that those who rejected the notion of equating traditional marriage between a man and a woman with so-called gay marriage should treat the decisions of others in the Bundestag with respect.
The CDU's sister-party, the Bavaria-based CSU, meanwhile also agreed that its parliamentarians should vote according to the conscience, even this meant a departure from the party's view that "marriage for all" was not in line with the party's views. The party said that marriage between a man and a woman should enjoy special protections while stressing that same-sex relationships made valuable contributions "to our society," which were recognized with the special provision of civil partnerships.
Political bargaining tool
Rather than genuine concern for gay and lesbian couples, the vote on gay marriage appears to be used as a bargaining chip between the two major parties, Merkel's CDU and her current coalition partner, the SPD, headed by Martin Schulz.
It appears that Schulz is hoping to gain votes by pushing the decision through the Bundestag less than three months ahead of the general elections. In recent days, Schulz has expressed that he would ideally not seek to enter another coalition government with the CDU as a junior partners but instead embark on a coalition with other smaller parties - if numbers add up. Schulz meanwhile also accused Merkel's conservative CDU-CSU bloc of having blocked the introduction of laws guaranteeing marriage equality for homosexual couples throughout the past four years of the coalition government.
It seems that Merkel's CDU meanwhile would prefer to dangle the prospect of legalizing gay marriage like the proverbial carrot in front of a donkey, hoping to confirm and expand the party's broad support by making the parliamentary vote on gay marriage one of the first points of order for the next government.
All of Merkel's potential coalition allies favor same-sex marriage, with some saying that it's a precondition for a coalition: Both the Free Democrats and the Greens are in support of the notion. Merkel is likely to need to support of both parties if wants to lead a coalition without the SPD.
Same-sex marriage is already legal in 14 EU states, including France, Spain, Portugal, the UK and the Benelux countries.
ss/rc (dpa, KNA, Reuters)