'Hate Preacher against Homosexuals' Germany's Gay Rights Debate Becomes Heated
German policymakers have recently indicated a willingness to further broaden rights for gays and lesbians in civil unions. But the debate has become heated this week as a conservative politician and the country's largest newspaper have questioned the move.
Katherina Reiche may have thought she was just reiterating her party's traditional pro-nuclear family stance. But remarks she made earlier this week on gay marriage have triggered an outpouring of protest. Indeed, the Internet fury has reached such dimensions that Reiche has taken her own Facebook page offline.
In remarks published in the Tuesday edition of the mass circulation newspaper Bild, Reiche called on her party, the center-right Christian Democratic Union, to stand by the institutions of marriage and family. "Our future lies in the hands of the family, not in same-sex civil unions," she said, reacting to a recent German debate about rights for gay and lesbian couples in civil unions. "Next to the euro crisis, demographic change is the biggest threat to our prosperity," she added, in a reference to the fact that Germany's low birth rate is expected to cause the population to shrink dramatically in the coming decades. The CDU, she said, "must say clearly that it stands for family, children and marriage."
Since Reiche's remarks were published on Tuesday, she has become the subject of tirades on Internet forums, where users have called her a "homophobe" and a "hate preacher against homosexuals." Although she took her own Facebook page offline on Tuesday after a flood of comments, a new Facebook page called "No Future with Katherina Reiche" received over 6,000 likes within one day of being set up. An open letter to Reiche on the page reads: "Your comments are a slap in the face of all families who do not correspond to your traditional norms."
Reiche's comments, though, aren't the only ones arousing the ire of Germany's netizens this week. An editorial in the mass-circulation tabloid Bild on Thursday written by long-time commentator Franz Josef Wagner has kicked up a storm of outrage of its own. In a page two editorial, he wrote: "The Justice Ministry would like to make (civil unions) the equal of 'Daddy-Mommy-Baby-Marriages'.... That makes me feel queasy." He continues: "Earlier, homosexuals were sentenced to prison time. What a glorious time for you. Nobody locks you up, you love your partners and you are allowed to love them." The suggestion is clear: Be happy with being allowed to live life outside of prison.
In addition to noting that gays in Germany had not only been arrested in times past, but also murdered at concentration camps like Sachsenhausen, Christian Mentz, the editor of Siegessäule, a Berlin magazine marketed to gays and lesbians, also wrote: "I don't just get queasy, I want to barf when I think of gays and lesbians, including those who take the responsibility of raising children, reading your lines."
'Going Too Far'
Much of the commentary this week, however, has been focused on Reiche. In a statement published Thursday, the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany (LSVD) criticized Reiche and another conservative member of parliament for their comments. "For days, conservative politicians have been polemicizing against lesbians and gays in an unacceptable fashion, in a language that we normally expect only from right-wing populists and right-wing extremists," the statement read.
There has also been criticism from within Reiche's own party. "Don't indirectly denigrate me and my life as a 'threat to our prosperity,'" wrote CDU member of parliament Jens Spahn on Twitter. "That is going too far." The CDU's youth branch in Reiche's constituency of Potsdam, near Berlin, also expressed their "indignation at the comments" in a statement. "Ms. Reiche's humanistic worldview appears to end at her own garden fence," said Tino Fischer, head of the Potsdam branch, in remarks to the Potsdam newspaper Märkische Allgemeine.
Reacting to the criticism, Reiche told Bild that "those people who call most loudly for tolerance are clearly the most intolerant themselves."
The remarks came within the context of a newly inflamed debate in Germany about civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, colloquially referred to as "gay marriage." Although the CDU and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) have not sought to repeal the civil unions legislation, which came into force in 2001, both are known for their "traditional family values" message and for seeking to preserve a special status for heterosexual marriage.
Split on Civil Unions
But it has become clear that the CDU is split over the issue of civil unions. A group of CDU lawmakers recently launched an initiative to grant couples in civil unions the same joint-filing tax benefits enjoyed by married heterosexual couples. German Family Minister Kristina Schröder, a member of the CDU, also recently spoke out in support of civil unions. "In lesbian and gay life partnerships, people take lasting responsibility for one another and thus they live according to conservative values," she said. On Wednesday, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported that the German Justice Ministry, which is controlled by the CDU's junior coalition partner, the business-friendly Free Democrats, wants to rewrite dozens of laws to expressly include same-sex couples.
Observers have pointed out that Reiche, a senior official in the Environment Ministry, was also indirectly criticizing her own boss, German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier, with her remarks. Altmaier has said in interviews that he is happy living alone and has described himself as a "permanent single" -- prompting speculation in the German media that he is a closet homosexual.
Reiche's critics have also pounced on the fact that the 39-year-old politician has departed from the traditional family model in her own lifestyle. Although Reiche is married and the mother of three, two of those children were born out of wedlock.