While some politicians in the US want to clamp down on rights for homosexuals, Germany is considering expanding them. A new law including changes on the adoption right for homosexuals has been proposed for 2005.
New Jersey already allows gay couples to adopt children
In 2001, Germany passed a law giving gay and lesbian couples some of the rights heterosexual couples have. The law included such things as inheritance and tenants' rights and foreign partners of a German gained the right to take on German citizenship. However, the registered partnership law didn't satisfy everyone since it didn't give homosexual couples the tax benefits married people enjoy, nor did it address the controversial issue of adoption.
Now the German government has announced it will expand the registered partnership law. The plans include allowing stepchild adoptions, where gay men or lesbians co-adopt the child of their partner. The idea is testing the limits of societal acceptance of gays and lesbians in Germany.
Gays have been able to register their partnerships with the German state since 2001.
Starting on January 1, 2005, gay and lesbian couples, who have entered into a registrierte Lebenspartnerschaft, or registered life-partnership, will have new pension rights, can get officially engaged, and can be required to pay alimony to a partner if the relationship breaks up.
A stabilizing force for children
Francesca Agostini and Katrin Kühler live in Berlin with their five-year-old son, Lucas. Francesca is the biological mother and earns her money as a pediatric dentist.
"To have a son was not my idea, it was actually a joint idea," she said. "We both decided to do this and both decided how to do this and he was born by artificial insemination."
The couple decided to have a child when they were living in Texas some time ago. Although no gay partnerships yet exists in that conservative state, Francesca and Katrin were able to draw up legal forms that gave Katrin guardianship rights when it came to Lucas. When they returned to Germany two years ago though, Katrin suddenly had no legal connection to the child at all.
That is what the new law aims to change, since once Katrin and Francesca became registered partners, it would allow Katrin to adopt Lucas and have the full legal rights of a parent. Supporters of the change say the law will be a stabilizing force for the thousands of children who already live in gay or lesbian households.
But according to many others, that aims of the new law are something that should not be encouraged, especially not by the state. The stepchild adoption proposal has outraged conservatives, who say it tears at the very fabric of what family is about, and puts children in an environment that could be harmful to them.
Norbert Röttgen, a Christian Democratic member of parliament and spokesmen for the conservatives on legal issues, said his party will fight the new law, going to the country's high court if necessary.
"We don't know how homosexual relationships affect children," he said. "That's a big risk that one takes. You're on safer ground if you place children up for adoption with married couples".
Volker Beck, right, and Axel Blumenthal, head of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Germany, at a 2002 constitutional court hearing that upheld registered partnerships.
But Volker Beck, a parliamentarian for the Green Party and a vocal advocate of gay and lesbian issues, said that there are over a million single mothers raising children in Germany. The traditional ideas about the nuclear family just aren't very current, he added.
For Beck, the stepchild adoption proposal doesn't go far enough. He wants to push for a law opening up general adoptions to homosexuals, instead of limiting it to one partner's biological child. But he said Germany probably isn't quite ready for that.
"Society has to be convinced first and that could take either months or years," he said.
Katrin Kühler, Lucas' second mom, said she is worried about the future."I could lose him, that is definitely the biggest fear," she said. "That something could happen to Francesca and somehow, some person would come and say, 'you don't have a right, he's not your son, forget about it.'"