Angela Merkel has said she is prepared to allow a free vote in the German parliament on same-sex marriage, a shift driven by changing public opinion and a desire to neutralise her election rivals.
The German Chancellor dropped her Christian Democratic Union party’s longstanding opposition to gay marriage days after two other parties had made it a core election issue.
Her coalition allies, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), plus the Greens, this month made “marriage for all” a condition of joining the CDU in government after the vote in September, and the right-wing liberal Free Democratic Party also said it was in favour of change.
All three are potential coalition partners for the CDU if Mrs Merkel wins a fourth term.
Mrs Merkel has established a reputation for taking popular policies, such as the establishment of a minimum wage and ending nuclear power generation, from her rivals, preventing them from gaining electoral advantage.
The CDU remains 15 percentage points ahead in polls. “I would rather like to shift the discussion in a direction of a vote of conscience, rather than imposing anything from the top,” Mrs Merkel told the women’s magazine Brigitte on Monday night.
It was a typically vague way of making a dramatic policy shift. Mrs Merkel is the daughter of a Lutheran pastor and has stuck by the traditional Christian views of her party activists, voicing reservations about “the wellbeing of children” in relation to full marriage rights for same-sex couples, including joint adoption.
She said that her thinking had shifted after a recent “memorable experience” when she met a lesbian couple who cared for eight foster children in Stralsund, her Baltic coast constituency.
It emerged yesterday that she had already agreed the policy shift with her allies from Bavaria, the Christian Social Union, which had been more rigidly opposed to liberalisation.
SPD leader Martin Schulz called for an immediate vote on same-sex marriage and was seen as trying to keep his name attached to the initiative.
One prominent CSU MP urged caution, however. “Germany has other problems … The leadership should be wary of destroying the last conservative values,” Peter Ramsauer said.
A vote of conscience in the Bundestag would be almost certain to agree on same-sex marriage and bring Germany in line with France, Belgium, Denmark and The Netherlands. Polls show that a large majority of German voters are in favour. Germany legalised civil unions in 2001 under the SPD-Green government of Gerhard Schroder.
Source: The Times