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


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