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German Government Dodges Opposition Attempts To Debate Same-Sex Marriage


It is Germany's turn to wrestle with the question of same-sex marriage. Unlike the United States or many other Western nations, same-sex marriage is not legal in Germany. This week, the opposition in Germany's Parliament tried to force debate on the issue, but Chancellor Angela Merkel's government dodged that. Life for same-sex couples is a little like it might have been in the United States a decade or so ago. Esme Nicholson reports from Berlin.


ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: You must be Wilhelm.

WERTHER: I am Wilhelm.


WERTHER: And that's Brian.


WERTHER: Gorki, come here. Come here. Come on.


NICHOLSON: Wilhelm Werther from Frankfurt and Brian Currid from New York have been together for more than 25 years. They live together with their excitable dog, Gorki, in Berlin. Six years ago, they tied the knot and became civil partners, although they refer to each other as husbands. Wilhelm reminisces about that their big day in church.

WERTHER: It was exactly the same (laughter) as a straight wedding with till-death-do-you-part and the whole shebang.

NICHOLSON: He says donning a morning suit and making it official prompted his late father to finally accept his relationship with Brian.

WERTHER: And so for my father, who was 80 at the time, it was recognizably a wedding. And then afterwards, he gave a speech and said that if 20 years prior to this day, he had known that this day was going to happen, he wouldn't have been as difficult.

NICHOLSON: Legally, though, they're not married. They have a civil union. But a recent study found that 83 percent of Germans are in favor of equal marriage. Even Brian and Wilhelm's local Protestant church gave them a blessing and entered their names into the parish marriage registry. So as far as they're concerned, there's no difference. By and large, that's true. Civil unions afford most of the same rights to gay and lesbian couples as marriage does to heterosexuals, except when it comes to adoption.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Speaking German).

INES PUTZ: (Speaking German).

NICHOLSON: Across town, outside an ice cream parlor overrun with toddlers and their weary parents, 38-year-old Ines Putz wipes her 4-year-old daughter's mouth.

PUTZ: (Speaking German).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Speaking German).

PUTZ: (Speaking German).

NICHOLSON: Ines also referred to her partner, Kerstin, as her wife. They said I do in 2011. She says, it wasn't until her first child was born that she felt discriminated against because of her sexual orientation. Her wife gave birth to both children. But legally, it was not a given that Ines was the other parent despite being in a civil partnership.

PUTZ: It actually took one and a half year until I was finally able to adopt her.

NICHOLSON: During this time, she needed written permission to take her own daughter to the doctor, and she had to prove to a social worker and to a judge that she would be a fit parent. For Ines, this is an important political issue, just as it is for the Green Party. Last week, they announced that they won't enter into any coalition deal after the September election if an equal-marriage bill is not on the agenda.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking German).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking German).

NICHOLSON: According to Volker Beck, a prominent member of the Greens, the current government has blocked legislation on this issue no less than 30 times.

VOLKER BECK: They always say they need a further debate, and we started the debate in 1990. This makes 27 years of debate.

NICHOLSON: Beck says the Social Democratic Party, which supports gay marriage, has been unwilling to push the debate for fear of breaking up its ruling coalition with Angela Merkel's conservatives. Her party, the Christian Democrats, sent NPR a written statement defining marriage as a long-term union between a man and a woman. Analysts say that even though the German public overwhelmingly favors gay marriage, Merkel is worried about alienating the conservative wing of her party. For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Berlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF PUFF DRAGON'S "CHINESE RADIO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.