Out on the Right On Being Gay, Conservative and Catholic

Jens Spahn, 32, is a member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union.
Fritz Stockmeier/ DER SPIEGEL

Jens Spahn, 32, is a member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union.

Part 2: 'I Remain Faithful to My Church'

SPIEGEL: As a gay man, why do you remain in the Catholic Church? In their eyes, you're a sinner.

Spahn: I'm a devout individual so I remain faithful to my church. And when a man like Berlin Archbishop Cardinal Rainer Woelki says that civil unions for gays embrace values that the Church should recognize, we can see that there is in fact a process underway here.

SPIEGEL: You attended a Catholic high school. What was that like, given that large segments of the Catholic Church see homosexuality as reprehensible?

Spahn: I was even an altar boy, and I've always felt at home in the Church. Catholics are often more laid back than they are given credit for -- presumably because at the back of their minds they realize that, if necessary, they can always confess everything to their local priest.

SPIEGEL: Do you never get upset about your church?

Spahn: Of course. A German bishop recently said that homosexuality is unnatural. That's sheer nonsense, of course. I didn't choose to be gay. It would be more accurate to say that it was determined by nature.

SPIEGEL: This past summer, you and 12 other members of the conservative group in parliament published a paper calling for homosexuals in a civil union to be able to enjoy the same tax benefits as heterosexual married couples. Why couldn't you gain more support among your own party ranks? After all, the conservative parliamentary group has 237 members.

Spahn: The debate on this paper showed that we are not alone. I see tax parity for lesbian and gay couples as a question of values. It has to do with recognizing that two people are making a long-term commitment to each other. Civil unions encompass all responsibilities, such as the obligation to pay alimony in the event of a divorce or unemployment. By the same token, the state can't say that the privileges that the law stipulates for married couples are denied to gay and lesbian couples. In any case, I will continue to advocate this view within the CDU.

SPIEGEL: Katherina Reiche, a fellow member of your conservative parliamentary group, rejected your initiative with the following words: "Our future lies in the hands of families, not in same-sex civil unions." Did you take this as an insult?

Spahn: It was, in any case, a poor choice of words. Of course children are our future. Families need and deserve our full support. The overwhelming majority of gays and lesbians share this opinion. But it's ridiculous to insinuate that the social recognition of homosexual civil unions damages families or the institution of marriage.

SPIEGEL: Would you be in favor of allowing gay couples to adopt children?

Spahn: Let's not ask whether the parents are gay or heterosexual. The important thing is who the best parents are in each individual case. Our sole concern here is the child's well-being.

SPIEGEL: You mean it's better to have devoted gay parents than uncaring heterosexual parents?

Spahn: Precisely.

SPIEGEL: CDU parliamentary floor leader Volker Kauder said that the issue of adoption rights is primarily about "self-fulfillment for gays and lesbians."

Spahn: He also said that politics begins with observing reality -- and the reality is that most gay couples don't want to adopt a child. Those who do, though, are often prepared to devote themselves entirely to their adoptive child. It's really an across-the-board insinuation to say that homosexual couples are only interested in self-fulfillment.

SPIEGEL: Is it quips like the one from Kauder that are responsible for the CDU being perceived in large German cities as a stuffy old gentlemen's party?

Spahn: I don't see it like that.

SPIEGEL: The fact of the matter is that the CDU is no longer governing in any German city with a population of over 1 million.

Spahn: Our problem in the large cities doesn't have to do with the substance of our politics, but rather with establishing an emotional connection. We lack a certain coolness and laid-back attitude. In Berlin I have a second residence in the district of Prenzlauer Berg. When I look around me there, I see people who should actually be conservative voters. There are a great many families there who are highly achievement oriented. There is also a sense of solidarity. For example, people paint the walls of daycare centers and schools together if the city doesn't manage to do it quickly enough. Families are important. At Easter and Christmas, the grandparents from southern Germany come to visit. In rural areas, these people vote for the CDU, whereas in the corresponding urban electoral districts, if things go well, we get 10 percent.

SPIEGEL: Why is that?

S pahn: The interesting thing is that, from an objective perspective, the CDU has transformed significantly. Much has changed sociopolitically with Angela Merkel. But this message isn't really getting through, particularly with young voters. That's worrisome. Back in 1998, we were still the strongest party among young voters. Now, though, we're far from it -- despite the fact that we have a lot to offer young people. I'm fighting for Sunday as a day of rest, for instance, particularly because the pace of life for many young people is determined by their smartphones. And when you take a look at what's important for most young people -- family, commitment, and professional success -- then the CDU actually reflects the spirit of the times. I also think that we should someday venture to form a coalition at the federal level between the conservatives and the Greens -- although the CDU can't allow itself to make too many compromises in such an alliance.

SPIEGEL: Currently, the Greens are ruling out any coalition with the conservatives.

Spahn: That's true. We won't go chasing after the Greens, and we won't form a coalition with a party that's based on left-wing egalitarianism. But, conversely, the Greens have nothing to gain by throwing themselves, for better or worse, into the arms of the SPD.

SPIEGEL: What can the CDU do to make a less provincial impression?

Spahn: The Republican Party lost the US presidential election in part because it was perceived as the party for old, white men. But we are unfortunately not far from such a one-sided perception. We have to better reflect the social reality. We should have more women candidates. It would help if all of us in the Bundestag participated more in life in Berlin. Many parliamentarians are practically competing to see who can live the closest to the Reichstag. In such a situation, all you know of Berlin is what you see during the taxi ride from the airport to the government quarter. We don't necessarily have to put in an appearance at hip techno clubs like Berghain. But a bit more curiosity about the city -- its diversity, galleries and bars -- would definitely be helpful.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Spahn, thank you for this interview.

Interview by Markus Feldenkirchen and René Pfister, translated from the German by Paul Cohen


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