'Consistent with Conservative Values' German Minister Supports Tax Benefits for Gay Couples

Germany has long been taking incremental steps toward full legal equality between gay and heterosexual couples. Now, the country's family minister has come out in favor of extending existing tax benefits to those in a civil union, saying it is consistent with conservative values because gay couples take "lasting responsibility" for one another.

A gay couple after their civil ceremony.

A gay couple after their civil ceremony.

A majority of Germans are in favor of establishing legal parity between civil unions and heterosexual marriage. So too are most of the parties represented in the German parliament. But when it comes to finally granting gay couples the same tax advantages associated with marriage, Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and, in particular, its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), have been adamantly opposed.

That, though, may now be changing. On Monday, a group of 13 CDU lawmakers released a statement demanding that the German parliament take the initiative in granting gay couples in a civil union the same joint-filing tax benefits enjoyed by married couples.

And Monday evening, the group received powerful support. German Family Minister Kristina Schröder told the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung that the push comes "at the right time, because in lesbian and gay life partnerships, people take lasting responsibility for one another and thus they live according to conservative values."

Monday's statement is not the first time that German parliamentarians have made a motion to eliminate the tax policy disadvantages facing civil unions relative to heterosexual married couples. Several political parties, primarily from the center-left but also including the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), Merkel's junior coalition partners, have in recent years come out in favor of eliminating tax policy discrepancies between heterosexual and homosexual couples. Such motions have largely failed to gain momentum due to opposition within the ranks of Merkel's conservatives.

Indeed, a spokesperson for German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, a member of the CDU, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Tuesday that Schäuble was opposed to extending marriage-related tax benefits to gay couples. He said he would prefer to wait for the German Constitutional Court, Germany's highest court, to rule on the issue. His opposition comes even as other cabinet members, including Economy Minister Philipp Rösler and Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, both of the FDP, welcomed Monday's statement by CDU lawmakers.

Chipping Away at Legal Divergence

The German government in 2001 introduced civil union -- a legal construct in Germany that falls just short of gay marriage. Since then, it has largely been up to the courts to chip away at the remaining vestiges of legal divergence. Two years ago, the German Constitutional Court prodded politicians to make inheritance tax rules identical for gay and lesbian couples. And just last week, the court ruled that homosexual civil servants and soldiers were eligible for the same family allowance benefits as heterosexual couples and demanded that retroactive payments be made back to 2001. Regulations governing adoption also vary between heterosexual and homosexual couples.

"It is unacceptable that policymakers must continually and predictably be directed by the German Constitutional Court to eliminate such unequal treatment," reads the Monday statement by the CDU lawmakers.

The group also pledged to introduce a bill following the summer recess aimed at modifying German tax law -- a move which has some chances for success. Merkel's coalition agreement with the FDP calls for the elimination of tax policy inequalities between homosexual and heterosexual couples, even if little progress has been made. The FDP has long backed equal rights for gay couples, not least because the party's former leader, current German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, is openly gay.

Still, Bavaria's Christian Social Union, a key part of Merkel's coalition, remains opposed to steps toward full gay marriage. And with crucial state elections approaching next year, it seems unlikely that the CSU will budge now.

cgh -- with wire reports


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