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Christian Democrats and gay marriage

Carla Bleiker / csc
March 4, 2013

Senior members of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union want to address equal rights for homosexuals. They are looking into taxing same-sex partnerships like married couples. But the party's base is divided.

Two men walking with a child at the beach (Photo: Wolfram Steinberg)
Image: picture alliance / Wolfram Steinberg

Frank Henseler, who heads the Bonn chapter of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), supports treating same-sex partners like married couples when it comes to taxation- despite being in a party that stands for tradition and family values in Germany. The 31-year old is proud of his party, because Volker Kauder, the chairman of the CDU parliamentary group, is now looking into the issue.

"It makes me happy that they are finally taking the step in the [party's] upper levels," Henseler told DW. "In my view, it is long overdue that they are opening up in this direction and completely accept that there are also ways of life different from those that the CDU always promoted."

But not everyone sees things the same way. Konrad Laube, an older member of a Bonn CDU chapter, is more critical about this development in his party. "In my opinion, we should still support Article 6 of the constitution, in which family and marriage are protected in a special way," he said. "And marriage is different from the partnership of gays and lesbians."

The chapter's Secretary Peter Kleusch is even more clear in his words. "I am against it. For me, that is not a Christian marriage. It's unnatural," he said.

The first senate Germany's Constitutional Court (From left to right: Gabriele Britz, Ferdinand Kirchhof (chair) and Reinhard Gaier (Photo: Uli Deck/dpa)
Germany's top court has extended gay adoption laws in GermanyImage: picture alliance / dpa

Compelled to act by court decision?

Opinions at the core of the party are divided. But not acting and ignoring the controversial issue is no longer an option for the CDU. On February 19, Germany's Constitutional Court decided that gays and lesbians can also adopt their partner's child, like heterosexual spouses. It's a big step forward for homosexuals, but it complicates the situation for the CDU - which is seen as a people's party that is conservative and has traditional values.

It has based its policies on Christian values, Armin Laschet, the head of the CDU in the state of North Rhine Westphalia, said, according to daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. About half of the party's members are Catholic. And the image of marriage and family is clear in the Catholic Church - man and woman belong to each other, and not man and man or woman and woman.

Until now, gay rights isn't one of the issues that has preoccupied the CDU. The party's majority, under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, spoke out against the equal treatment of homosexual partnerships when it comes to taxation at its last congress in December 2012. But this September, Germany holds elections, which the CDU certainly hopes to win. So it wouldn't hurt to tap into new groups of voters. The question is whether CDU politicians are having a change of heart or are simply trying to change their image just in time for the elections.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a policy statement about her government's EU policy during a session of the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament in Berlin February 21, 2013. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)
Merkel has to make both the conservative and liberal wings of her party happyImage: Reuters

A balancing act for CDU

The party is trying to do both, according to Carsten Koschmieder from the Otto-Suhr-Institute of Political Science at the Free University of Berlin. On the one hand, some factions have been fighting out of conviction. On the other hand, experts suspect that there are changes because of strategic reasons prior to the elections in September, Koschmieder said.

The party is doing a balancing act - between the traditional conservative and the liberal camps of the party. "It's not really clear how many votes can be won in the middle, and how many votes could be lost at the conservative edge," Koschmieder said about the attitude toward equal taxation of same-sex couples. "There are strategists, who say, 'there are more, who we can get in the middle, particularly in big cities or among the young. And that's where we have to change.'"

In addition, the Federal Constitutional Court's recent decision on adoption has meddled with the CDU's plans - the court will probably also decide in favor of equal treatment for homosexual couples in taxation.

Renate Rampf from the Gay and Lesbian Federation in Germany
Rampf doesn't care whether the CDU is having a change of heart - she just wants things to changeImage: LSVD

Conservatives under pressure

Gerd Langguth, political scientist and Merkel's biographer, believes that the approach of the CDU makes perfect sense.

"It's not just a matter of waiting to see what the Constitutional Court says, but also going on the offensive to act on what the Constitutional Court wants," he added.

The CDU is now under pressure to act, said Renate Rampf, the spokesperson for Germany's Lesbian and Gay Federation.

"Even conservative voters don't want a party that is so weak that it will be taken to the Constitutional Court," she told DW.

Rampf doesn't think it's important whether the CDU is acting because of the pressure or out of conviction, and who implements the changes. "We don't care whether it's the Conservatives or any other party that does it. The important thing is that finally, something happens," she said.

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