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Tax equality

Anna Peters/ cbJune 27, 2013

The German parliament will pass a law that gives same-sex civil unions the same tax advantages as heterosexual marriages. Conservative politicians from Germany's ruling party oppose the law, but will still vote in favor.

ARCHIV - Heiko Czichoschewski (l) und Michael Titze (r) geben sich am 14.08.2009 nach ihrer leichgeschlechtlich geschlossen Lebenspartnerschaft im Kreisverwaltungsreferat in München (Oberbayern) einen Kuss. In Baden-Württemberg müssen lesbische und schwule Paare für ihre Lebenspartnerschaft oft deutlich tiefer in die Tasche greifen, als andere Paare für die Ehe. Foto: Peter Kneffel dpa/lsw (zu lsw-THEMA DES TAGES vom 04.07.2010) +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++ pixel
Homosexuelle EheImage: picture alliance/dpa

Manfred Bausch and his partner have a traditional relationship. They just finished building a house in Aachen, a town in western Germany, and are now in the midst of moving.

"We pretty much lead a normal life, just like any other family," Bausch tells DW. He's a passionate hobby chef and likes to cook for his partner and their friends. The two men like to go to the movies or to see a play. For 10 years, they have been doing almost everything together- except for their tax returns. Until now, they each had to complete separate forms.

But that's about to change. On Thursday (27.06.2013), the Bundestag is likely to pass an amendment to the income tax law. This change will allow homosexual couples who live in civil unions to take advantage of certain tax perks that were previously only open to married couples. Germany does not currently recognize same-sex marriages.

An important political signal

Bausch and his partner will see a significant change in their wallets if the law is enacted: "I'm guessing we'll save around 3,500 euros ($4,560) a year," he said.

Bausch said there's an important political shift behind the law: "For me, this law is an important milestone, because we also have a financial equality for same-sex partnerships now."

ARCHIV - Das homosexuelle Paar Heinz Haare (l) und Reinhard Lüschow zeigen in ihrem Wohnzimmer in Hannover (Foto vom 07.07.2011) ihre Ringe. Eingetragene Lebenspartnerschaften müssen auch vom Ehegattensplitting profitieren können. Das entschied das Bundesverfassungsgericht am 06.06.2013. Die Ungleichbehandlung von Ehen und eingetragenen Lebenspartnern sei verfassungswidrig, hieß es. Foto: Julian Stratenschulte/dpa (zu dpa "Ehegattensplitting auch für eingetragene Partnerschaften" vom 06.06.2013) +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Gay and lesbian couples will now be able to hand in just one joint tax return formImage: picture alliance/dpa

Manfred Bruns, a board member of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany (LSVD), called the new law a success: "This is something we have pushed for a very long time, basically since the beginning of civil unions here in 2001."

While Bruns and Bausch are excited about the change, they aren't happy with how the law made it into the Bundestag. The parliamentary group of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), had fought the tax equality of civil unions for a long time. The current bill only came to pass after a decision was made in May by the Constitutional Court, Germany's highest court.

The judges ruled that the same tax laws should be applied to civil unions as to marriages, including perks that allows married couples to pool their income as a means of paying less in taxes. In the judges' view, the current law breaches the general equality provision that is anchored in the constitution. The opposition Social Democrats and the Greens, as well as the CDU's free-market liberal coalition partner, the FDP, had demanded a change in the income tax law to benefit civil unions before the constitutional court's decision.

Der Erste Senat des Bundesverfassungsgerichts, v.l. Gabriele Britz, Ferdinand Kirchhof (Vorsitz) und Reinhard Gaier, verkündet am 19.02.2013 in Karlsruhe (Baden-Württemberg) im Bundesverfassungsgericht sein Urteil über das Adoptionsrecht in homosexuellen Lebenspartnerschaften. Laut dem Urteil hat das Gericht Beschränkungen beim Adoptionsrecht homosexueller Lebenspartner für verfassungswidrig erklärt. Das bisherige Verbot der sogenannten Sukzessivadoption verstoße gegen das Recht auf Gleichbehandlung. Foto: Uli Deck/dpa
The constitutional court said that 'equal rights for all' also includes tax benefitsImage: picture alliance / dpa

Reluctant agreement

After the court's ruling, CDU and CSU lawmakers will also likely vote in favor of the tax equalization law. Norbert Geis, a CSU delegate and opponent of the law, said he will vote for bill because of the Constitutional Court's decision. But he will do so reluctantly.

"I believe that you can only equalize something that is actually equal," Geis told DW. "You cannot say that homosexual partners are equal to a marriage, because marriage is something different from these unions." He said he will vote in favor of the law, because one "can't provoke a conflict with the constitution for this."

The income tax law will be passed by the Bundestag backdated to August 1, 2001. The government estimates that the tax equalization will cost 175 million euros in 2013 and 55 million euros per year in the years to come.

A call to open up marriage

The equal footing on tax law is another step in the direction of total equality between civil unions and marriage, according to Bruns and Bausch.

Manfred Bruns gehört zum Bundesvorstand des LSVD. Bild: privat, zugeliefert von Anna Peters/DW
Bruns: homosexual couples should be allowed to marryImage: privat

"Another important step will be full right of adoption," Bausch added. The good of the child is the most important factor for him, "but that can be taken care of by same-sex couples as well as by heterosexuals."

Bruns went a step further: "We are now facing the question: 'why do we have to separate institutions if they have basically the same rights?' That's why we demand the legalization of gay marriage."

Only time will tell whether Bruns's and Bausch's hopes will come true.

"It depends on the outcome of the next federal election in September," Bruns added. "All parties are in favor of it, except, like always, CDU and CSU."

Germany's next federal elections will take place in September.