The other night I was invited to be a guest speaker at a nice dinner in Frankfurt am Mainz. I spoke about violence and discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people the world over, including the dismal situation in places like Nigeria, Indonesia and Russia.
During the questions and answers the 15 dinner guests were sharing personal experiences. Next to me was a Dutch man, Jaap, and his German partner, Daniel, was across the table. Jaap proudly announced he was going to marry Daniel next week.
After my rather depressing account of torture, prison sentences, blackmailing police officers and the high rate of suicides among LGBT people, the dinner guests were longing for some positive news. Everyone congratulated Jaap and Daniel.
“I am so happy that something beautiful like that can take place in Germany,” the host beamed and she raised her glass.
I saw a short moment of hesitation in Daniel’s eyes. Then he answered: “We are together nine years, and want our relationship legally recognized. That’s why we want to get married. However, it is unfortunate this is not allowed in Frankfurt or anywhere else in Germany. We need to flee to the Netherlands. Jaap is from Amsterdam and there the first same-sex marriages were taking place in 2001.”
”We consider ourselves equal marriage refugees,” Jaap added disapprovingly.
Our host looked upset. “Isn’t it possible for gay and lesbian couples to get married in Germany?” she asked incredulously. One of the other guests, a banker from Frankfurt, noted that his neighbours, a female couple, were registered partners. “That’s almost the same, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Almost the same is not equal,” I answered.
“But is Germany an exception in comparison to other European countries?” he asked.
”Yes!” Daniel and Jaap said and both of them went on: “In the Western part of Europe same-sex couples can get married in Scandinavian countries, in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland and Iceland. In all these places civil marriage is opened to couples, irrespective of their gender.”
The other guests were astonished. They asked why Germany is lagging behind.
“All political parties in the German House of Representatives support marriage equality, except the CDU,” I said. “The CDU needs the votes of the conservative regional party from Bayern, the CSU, to stay in power and has a pact with them. The CSU does not want to support same-sex marriage. Every political party that becomes the CDU’s coalition partner has to agree to the same anti-marriage equality position.”
Daniel added that within the CDU a quarter of the members of parliament have publicly expressed that they are in favour of marriage equality. However, they are bound by the coalition agreement and are not allowed to support initiatives that would introduce it in Germany.
“So in fact there is a two third majority in the House of Representatives in favour,” one of the other guests calculated. “Why don’t the MPs organize a free vote?” I responded that the CDU will not agree to that.
“Is denying LGBT people equal marriage rights a signature of conservative politics?” the banker asked.
“No,” I responded. “Take for instance the United Kingdom, where same-sex marriage started in 2014.” David Cameron prime minister at the time from the conservative party, supported marriage equality. He said he saw people caring for each another in a relationship, commitment and responsibility as conservative values, and that’s why as a conservative he was in favour of civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples.
Jaap and Daniel said they were very disappointed the German authorities won’t allow them to get married in Germany. “That’s why we are forced to marry abroad,” they said. “Our relatives and friends from all over the world will join us in the Netherlands. We will marry on a boat on the Amsterdam canals. Afterward we will throw a big party.”
Once again we raised our glasses and wished the couple a happy married life.
“Economically it would also be wise for Germany to give equal marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples,” the banker concluded in an afterthought. “All that money is spent in Amsterdam, and not here, where it belongs.” Frankfurt’s loss may be Amsterdam’s gain for Daniel and Jaap’s nuptials, but maybe by the time their first anniversary comes around, Berlin’s politics will have progressed.