Germany’s gay-marriage vote: a childish spectacle

The German parliament voted on Friday to give same-sex couples equal marriage rights. It has been hailed by many MPs as a historic moment. But the vote was not the result of an open and intensive democratic debate. In truth, it marked the end of a week of political point-scoring, as the parties desperately tried to outmanoeuvre each other in the run up to the election.

Given the ruling Christian Democratic Union’s (CDU) opposition to gay marriage, all the other main parties had made it a central election demand. ‘The ball is on the penalty spot. And the goalie is not even there. You have to clean it up’, said Thomas Oppermann, head of the parliamentary wing of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). In an otherwise boring election campaign, the SPD and others leapt on the issue in an attempt to mop up middle-class votes.

The decision to hold a vote came just hours after chancellor Angela Merkel had been on a TV talkshow, on which she was asked by a gay man (who introduced himself as a ‘great fan’ of hers) when he would finally be allowed to call his partner his husband. She was in a bit of bind, but made a typically savvy move. She assured her fan that she had been reconsidering the issue – apparently after meeting an impressive lesbian couple who had eight foster children – and promised a vote in the Bundestag, in which everyone could vote according to their conscience.

Even if we accept that the principles of traditional marriage are outdated, we should demand proper debate. What we got was a theatrical spectacle. Those who opposed the motion constantly expressed their ‘understanding and respect’ for the other side, and those who backed it repeated shallow ‘love wins’ slogans. Merkel ended up opposing the motion – a move interpreted as a sop to her base – but she had nevertheless shown sufficient openness by calling for the vote in the first place.

The result was celebrated with rainbow-coloured confetti, a huge gay wedding cake and tears of joy. Meanwhile, those who dared to criticise the way the vote had been pushed through – such as the former CDU rebel and crossbencher Erika Steinbach – found themselves heckled and jeered at, as if they were party-poopers. This wasn’t a historic moment for equality, it was politics at its most superficial and childish.

Sabine Beppler-Spahl is spiked’s Germany correspondent. She is head of the board of the liberal think-tank Freiblickinstitut e.V., which has published the Freedom Manifesto. She is also the organiser of the Berlin Salon.

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