Germany Celebrates Its First Same-Sex Marriages

The country’s marriage equality law, which was passed in June, went into effect on Sunday

Bodo Mende (left) and Karl Kreile (right) are the first couple in Germany to celebrate a same-sex wedding. Britta Pedersen/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Though they are typically closed over the weekend, city halls across Germany opened their doors on Sunday to accommodate the country’s first-ever crop of same-sex marriages. As Melissa Eddy reports for the New York Times, Germany’s new marriage equality law went into effect on October 1, barely three months after it passed in a surprise vote.

The first couple to wed was Bodo Mende, 60, and Karl Kreile, 59, who met 38 years ago in what was then West Berlin. The partners were married in a civil ceremony in Schöneberg, the heart of Berlin's historically gay area, surrounded by family, friends and a throng of journalists who were on hand to capture the historic moment.

"This is an emotional moment with great symbolism," Kriele said, according to the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. "The transition to the term 'marriage' shows that the German state recognizes us as real equals."

Civil partnerships have been legal in Germany since 2001, but same-sex partners were not granted the same rights as heterosexual married couples. One of the most significant changes ushered in by the new law allows same-sex couples to adopt children together. Previously, as Eddy explains in the Times, a person in a civil union was only allowed to adopt the biological child of his or her partner.

Germany became the 15th European country to legalize gay marriage in June of this year. Despite her party's longstanding opposition to marriage equality, German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the doors for the legislation when she invited politicians to vote on the issue “according to their conscience,” as Kate Connolly explains in the Guardian.

A significant majority of German voters support same-sex marriage, and following an emotional debate, the law passed 393 to 296, with four lawmakers abstaining. Politicians greeted the results by tossing glittered confetti across the chamber. (Merkel, aligning with the anti-marriage equality sentiment of her Christian Democratic Union party, voted against same-sex marriage. “For me, marriage as defined by law is marriage between a man and a woman,” Merkel explained at the time of the vote, according to Connolly.)

Many of the 43,000 registered civil partners in Germany are expected to legally marry over the next few months, and the new law has been met with “strong public support,” according to Frank Jordans of the Associated Press. Writing on Twitter on Sunday, Heiko Maas, Germany’s justice minister, hailed marriage equality as a “milestone for modern society,” according to Eddy.

“Thanks to everyone who fought so long for this,” Maas added. “Today is your day.”

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