Same-Sex Marriage Debate Rogue Conservatives Mull Pro-Gay Petition
Chancellor Merkel's conservatives officially oppose giving same-sex civil unions the same status as heterosexual marriages -- despite polls that show the majority of their voters would support such a measure. Now some of her allies are toying with the idea of siding with the opposition on the issue.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's quiet attempts to end debate within her party on same-sex marriage are falling short, as a number of her allies in parliament consider joining an opposition-led petition to the government in favor of gay rights.
A group of legislators belonging to Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is mulling signing on to a "group petition," in which they would publicly side with the opposition on the matter. The petition would call for the government to expand the rights of registered same-sex partnerships to include all the tax benefits given to married heterosexual couples.
"A multi-party group petition would be an option," said CDU parliamentarian Stefan Kaufmann. His party colleague Jens Spahn said he sympathized with the opposition, but would prefer to wait out the discussions within the party.
The center-left Social Democrats and Greens are planning to submit their own petitions to the government this week, calling for equal tax benefits for same-sex couples.
While Merkel's party remains officially opposed to such plans, several CDU members have already publicly stated they favor making gay unions equal to marriage. So far, however, none have yet broken with the party platform in an official petition since a court ruling on adoption rights last month thrust the issue into the headlines. Signing a petition with the opposition would be a symbolic demonstration of sympathy with voters who support gay rights.
German law grants registered same-sex couples most of the rights given to married couples, including immigration and inheritance rights. However gay couples cannot jointly adopt children, nor can they file joint tax returns.
'Shrill Minority' vs. 'Silent Majority'
The most vehement opposition to same-sex marriage in the government comes from CDU's Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). The party's general secretary, Alexander Dobrindt, told the Welt am Sonntag Sunday newspaper that small interest groups cannot be allowed to drive the debate on gay and lesbian rights.
"We have 17 million marriages in Germany and 30,000 same-sex partnerships," Dobrindt said. The CDU/CSU's mission, he continued, is to "give voice to the silent majority against a shrill minority."
In fact, an opinion poll released last month by the weekly news magazine Stern found that 74 percent of Germans would support making same-sex registered cicil unions legally equivalent to marriage. That includes 64 percent of voters who support the CDU and CSU.
Sticking Point within Coalition
The ongoing internal debate in the CDU comes as delegates of the party's junior coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), voted overwhelmingly in favor of equalizing gay unions with marriage at a weekend party congress.
FDP chairman Philipp Rösler, who also serves as economy minister and vice chancellor, called on Merkel's party to modernize its position on gay rights. He referenced an upcoming decision by the Federal Constitutional Court that may force the government to grant equal tax benefits to same-sex partnerships, saying the government should pre-empt the court and change the law now.
"We as a government have a unique chance right now to send a clear signal for a free, tolerant society -- before the any constitutional court decision comes into play," he told public broadcaster ARD.
Its support for gay rights notwithstanding, the FDP's leading candidate, Rainer Brüderle, said the party would not vote with the opposition on the tax issue. But that followed a conflicting statement from FDP General Secretary Patrick Döring. He told the Frankfurter Allegemeine Sonntagszeitung that the party's previous votes against tax rights for gay unions were made only out of respect its coalition with the CDU, but that he "could hardly imagine the FDP parliamentary group voting that way again."
Finance Ministry Considers Broader Tax Reform
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is drafting possible reforms to the German tax code, under which the current perks for married couples would be expanded to all families with children. He stipulates that the reform cannot end up making anyone worse off than they are under current law, and the fiscal impact would have to be neutral -- meaning a state-funded monthly child allowance for parents, as well as a child tax credit, would have to be abolished.
The possible reforms would apply to all types of family situations -- presumably including same-sex couples with children. For that reason, the finance ministry said the reforms would likely take years to be approved and written into law.