Germans celebrate first gay marriages

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."

Constitutional hurdles

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."

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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)