Gay and lesbian couples have until now only been able to enter into registered partnerships with fewer legal rights than heterosexual couples. That all changed on Sunday as same-sex marriage became legal in Germany.
Karl Kreile and Bodo Mende – two civil servants from Berlin – became the first gay couple to marry in Germany on Sunday after parliament voted in June to allow lesbian and gay couples to marry and adopt children.
Berlin Mayor Michael Müller congratulated the couples and described the first gay nuptials as a "historic event."
"Marriage for all is a milestone on the path to full legal and social equality," Müller said in a statement on Friday ahead of the weddings, lauding the gay and lesbian community and those "who fought for many years" for their rights.
Same-sex couples in Germany have been able to register civil partnerships since 2001, but it was not until parliament voted for marriage equality earlier this year that full marriage equality was enacted. With that move, various differences between civil partnerships and marriage – principally that same-sex couples were not able to adopt children together - were finally erased.
Kriele, 59, and Bodo, 60, have been at the forefront of campaigning for gay rights in Germany since meeting in 1979 in what was then West Berlin.
"This is an emotional moment with great symbolism," Kriele said. "The transition to the term 'marriage' shows that the German state recognizes us as real equals."
Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to let parliament hold a free vote on same-sex marriages in June. While she voted against the move, a majority of MPs backed it, making Germany the 14th country in Europe and the 23rd worldwide to allow same-sex couples to marry.
"I still think it was indecent to delay for so many years, and the fact that she [Merkel] voted no," lawmaker Johannes Kahrs, gay and lesbian affairs commissioner for the Social Democratic Party, told the AFP news agency.
The constitution must still be amended to fully protect against discrimination over gender or sexual orientation, Kahrs insisted.
"These are all things that we'll tackle bit by bit," he said.
"The important thing is that we've pushed through the opening of marriage, and that's the signal everyone needed."
David Furnish and Elton John
Elton John, right, and his longtime partner David Furnish embrace after their first wedding, a civil partnership ceremony in Windsor, England, in 2005. But in 2014, the couple - who have two sons - tied the knot for a second time following the legalization of same-sex marriage in Britain, which accorded them full marriage rights. "For this legislation to come through is joyous," said Sir Elton.
Jodie Foster and Alexandra Hedison
When Oscar-winning actress Jodie Foster gave birth to two sons in 1998 and 2001, her partner was producer Cydney Bernard, the co-parent of her children. After that relationship ended, the very private Foster finally came out in 2013 and a year later tied the knot with actress and photographer Alexandra Hedison, former partner of Ellen DeGeneres.
Ricky Martin and Jwan Yosef
While singer and actor Ricky Martin had not publicly revealed his sexuality until 2010, he is now engaged to Jwan Yosef, a Syrian-Swedish painter of Kurdish origin. Martin, whose family still lives in Puerto Rico, is planning a big international wedding in his home country - same-sex marriage has been legal in Puerto Rico since 2015 as it's a territory of the United States.
Ellen deGeneres und Portia de Rossi
After coming out in 1997, the American comedian Ellen DeGeneres was shunned by the television industry until her award-winning talk show "Ellen" began in 2003. A year later, she began a relationship with Australian actress Portia de Rossi, and in 2008 the couple married in Los Angeles - which was possible after the California Supreme Court overturned the state's bans on same-sex marriage.
Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka
For five years the American actor Neil Patrick Harris and actor-chef David Burtka kept their engagement secret. But when same-sex marriage was recognized in New York in 2011, they tweeted their looming marriage joyfully to the world. Already the parents of twins Gideon and Harper, the actors married in Italy in 2014, after more than 10 years together - and wore tuxedos designed by Tom Ford.
Lauren Morelli and Samira Wiley
Samira Wiley, star of "Orange Is the New Black," and Lauren Morelli, a writer and producer of the same hit TV series set in a female prison, were married in March after getting engaged a year earlier. Wiley announced the engagement on Instagram, where she showed off her ring - more recently, she posted an image on the social media site that read: The Future is Queer.
Michael Kors and Lance LePere
Fashion guru Michael Kors and longtime partner and colleague Lance LePere tied the knot in New York in 2011 at a private ceremony on a Southampton beach in the Hamptons. "To marry someone as wonderful and special to me as Lance barefoot on a glorious beach is more than I could have dreamed of," Kors said. It all became possible after New York legalized same-sex marriage that year.
Cynthia Nixon and Christine Marinoni
"Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon and fiancee Christine Marinoni, an education activist, were engaged at a New York rally demanding same-sex marriage rights in 2009. After these rights were granted two years later - the year Marinoni gave birth to their son - the couple were married in New York in 2012.
Lance Bass and Michael Turchin
Lance Bass, former singer in boy band 'N Sync, and partner Michael Turchin became the first same-sex couple to get married live on American TV. The "Lance Loves Michael: The Lance Bass Wedding" special aired in 2015, two years after the couple were engaged.
Miriam Meckel and Anne Will
The well-known German TV presenter and television journalist Anne Will had already been with the communications expert Miriam Meckel for many years before making the relationship public in 2007. Since August 2016, the two have lived in a registered civil partnership, but with the impending change of law in Germany they could soon consummate their union with marriage.
Acceptance for gay marriage
Polls show around 75 percent of Germans in favor of gay marriage.
According to 2015 figures, some 94,000 same-sex couples live together in the country, with 43,000 in registered civil partnerships.
Jörg Steinert, who heads the Berlin branch of Germany's lesbian and gay association (LSVD) said being able to marry will have benefits for same-sex couples, including the right to adopt children. The first such adoption is expected to take place in Berlin on October 4, he said.
Some local authorities in Germany have enthusiastically embraced the prospect of same-sex marriages, even deciding to open their registry offices on a Sunday to conduct and celebrate the first gay and lesbian weddings.
Among them are the northern city of Hamburg and the Berlin district of Schöneberg, which has been the center of gay life in the German capital for more than a century.
jbh, shs/sms (dpa, AP, AFP)