Update: German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier signed a bill into law on Friday allowing same-sex couples to marry. The law is expected to take effect this fall, bringing Germany up to speed with many of its Western peers.
This story was originally published on June 30, 2017.
Love finally won in Germany.
On Friday, members of Parliament finally voted to legalize same-sex marriage. The vote was only possible because German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who long opposed same-sex marriage, pivoted earlier this week to say members of her party should take the issue as a “question of conscience.” This encouraged lawmakers in her conservative coalition to vote individually, instead of along party lines.
In the end, Merkel voted against legalizing same-sex unions. But during the debate, other members of her party, the Berlin Christian Democrats, urged their peers to vote in favor of allowing same-sex couples to wed.
The bill gives same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples, allowing them to marry and jointly adopt children. There were 393 votes in favor of "marriage for everybody," 226 opposing the measure, and four abstentions.
The next step is for the Bundesrat, Germany's upper house, to vote on the issue next week. The chamber is expected to vote "yes" on the measure, as it has previously voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. Afterwards, the bill would need to be signed into law by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The measure could take effect before the year ends.
"If the Constitution guarantees one thing, it is that anyone in this country can live as they wish," said the Social Democrats' leader, Thomas Oppermann, according to The New York Times. "If gay marriage is decided, then many will receive something, but nobody will have something taken away."
Since 2001, same-sex couples in Germany have been allowed to pursue civil unions, but didn't have the same rights as married couples. And the issue has had overwhelming support from Germans: About two-thirds of the country supports the legalization of same-sex marriages.
For the longest time, Merkel was against the idea of allowing same-sex couples to wed. In 2015, she said, "For me, personally, marriage is a man and a woman living together." She repeated that sentiment on Friday, but seemed to have softened up on the issue of allowing same-sex couples to adopt.
During an interview with the women’s magazine Brigitte, the chancellor said she had "a life-changing experience in my home constituency" when she had dinner with a lesbian couple that has eight foster children.
Friday's session was the last one before Parliament's summer recess and the national election in September. One of the reasons the country was pushed in the direction of voting on the issue was because last weekend two major political parties said they wouldn't enter a coalition with the Christian Democrats for the national elections unless they considered the legislation.
This September Merkel is seeking a fourth term in the general election. By softening her stance on same-sex marriage and setting the vote into motion, she was able to appeal to voters while also appeasing the more conservative factions of her party.
"I hope that with today’s vote, not only that mutual respect is there between the individual positions, but also that a piece of social peace and togetherness could be created,” Merkel said in a statement after the vote.
The vote represents a triumph for LGBTQ rights in Germany, and it could push other countries to consider legalizing same-sex marriage as well.
Christine Lüders, who is in charge of Germany’s anti-discrimination agency, told The New York Times that passing the law was "not about special rights for anyone, but about equal rights."
He added, "I am certain that just a few years from now, as a society, we will look back on this decision on marriage equality and ask ourselves, 'Why on earth did it take us so long?'"