Germany’s parliament has voted to legalise same-sex marriage by 393 votes to 226, despite Angela Merkel opposing the move.
The German Chancellor was seen voting with a red card, indicating a no vote, at the end of a heated debate in the Bundestag.
“For me, marriage in German law is marriage between a man and a woman and that is why I did not vote in favour of this bill today,” she told reporters moments after the historic vote.
“I hope that the vote today not only promotes respect between different opinions but also brings more social cohesion and peace.”
The Chancellor said she supported the bill’s introduction of full adoption rights for same-sex couples – a move she had previously opposed – and was fighting anti-LGBT discrimination.
Ms Merkel had freed her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) from the party whip on the issue, calling for a “vote of conscience”.
The snap vote was called by the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) under an amendment entitled “marriage for all”, which was guaranteed majority support in the Bundestag from The Left party and Greens.
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) June 30, 2017
Johannes Kahrs, an SPD politician known for his LGBT campaigning, launched a blistering attack on Ms Merkel over “embarrassing” delays to the legislation.
He finished his impassioned speech with: “Frau Merkel, thanks for nothing.”
Several members of the Bundestag spoke against the change, including CDU/CSU group leader Volker Kauder.
“On the grounds of conscience, I will not support anything that allows marriage except for man and woman,” he said, arguing that civil partnerships were sufficient and the law was not discriminatory.
Mr Kauder, a close ally of Ms Merkel, acknowledged that the CDU/CSU was split and said he “has respect for both sides” of the debate.
Volker Beck, a Green party politician who had championed the legislation, urged conservatives to support extending the right to marriage, saying the institution was “safe, but discrimination against gay men and lesbians is over”.
Katrin Göring-Eckardt, chair of the Green party, hailed “history being made”, saying she did not understand the CDU/CSU limiting the “conservative” institution of marriage.
The Greens celebrated with rainbow confetti and a cake when the result of the vote was announced on Friday morning.
Hundreds of members of the Bundestag rose to their feet in a spontaneous standing ovation, as members of the public in the viewing gallery embraced and cheered and celebrations broke out in Berlin’s streets.
The Chancellor had accused the SPD, which governs in coalition with her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of “ambushing” her by bringing forward the vote.
“It’s sad and completely unnecessary…that such a decision has turned into a political confrontation at the very moment when there was a realistic outlook for a process that could have crossed party lines,” Ms Merkel told Wirtschaftswoche magazine earlier in the week.
“Every member of parliament should be able to follow their conscience.”
The issue has divided her party, which remains the largest in the German parliament and has shown comfortable poll leads ahead of September’s federal elections.
Political analysts said that despite condemnation from critics over her no vote, Ms Merkel had trodden a careful line on same-sex marriage.
While endearing herself to right-wing voters on a personal level, she ultimately allowed the vote to happen by freeing the SPD from their obligation as a coalition partner not to put the bill forward when she called for a “vote of conscience”.
Germany has allowed same-sex couples to enter civil partnerships since 2001, but same-sex marriages remain illegal.
The draft law legalising same-sex marriage, which was first moved in 2015 in the upper house of parliament by the state of Rhineland Palatinate, could be signed into law by the President after 7 July.
The Netherlands was the first European country to legalise same-sex marriage, back in 2001, followed by countries including Belgium, Spain, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Denmark, France and the UK.
With almost all of its neighbours supporting legal unions between gay partners, calls had been increasing in Germany for the government to drop resistance that appeared increasingly anachronistic.
In 2013, Merkel used arguments focused on children’s rights to explain why she didn’t support redefining marriage. A video from the BBC shows members of Parliament standing, clapping, and cheering after the vote. Merkel remained seated.
An LGBT activist interviewed by the BBC claimed the vote put an end to “the two-class society in love.” The BBC’s video showed same-sex couples kissing and a man dressed as a woman.
Mainstream media reports about the legislation did not seem to weigh in on how this vote will impact Germany’s relationship with its growing number of refugees, many from cultures that label same-sex relationships sinful.
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