If someone had told me gay couples in Texas would get full marriage equality before their German counterparts, I would’ve laughed.
The Supreme Court’s ruling, and the Irish referendum, have changed everything for Germans demanding marriage equality – but we’re still waiting.
Right now, same-sex German couples can enter a civil partnership; for quite a few (straight) people and politicians, that seems to be close enough to full equality – except it isn’t.
Marriage is protected under German constitutional law, but partnerships aren’t: the government could take gay couples’ right to enter partnerships away in the blink of an eye.
Few realize there are 150 regulations in 54 laws outlining the differences between marriage and civil partnerships – from adoption to pensions paid by self-regulatory professional organizations. Whatever this is, equality it ain’t.
Ireland’s landslide decision in the referendum saw the discussion about gay marriage flare up again in Germany, revealing a deep divide: people either spoke for or against it, there was hardly any middle ground.
The discussion also drove home one thing: Germany is a lot less progressive, and a lot more conservative, than I ever believed – call me naïve, but this doesn’t feel like the country I grew up in.
My relationship with ‘the German public’, expressing themselves in comments on Facebook, under articles on major news websites or even in face-to-face conversations, has been strained for the better part of the three years since I left.
Some of the things I read or hear genuinely shock me, from the rise of the PEGIDA (Patriotische Europaeuer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes/Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident) movement to refugees and the massive rise in violence against them, to open homophobia rearing its ugly head.
It feels as if the country has suddenly taken a big step back, with some of the rhetoric even starting to echo times no one wants to think about.
You don’t have to dig particularly deep to encounter truly worrying content. I’m talking about people using the black-white-red of the German Reich as their avatar, on blogs or Facebook – spreading hate from behind an alias.
Two arguments are prevalent in the discussion, muddled in with new plans to start sex education before the age of six and to include ‘alternative lifestyles’. Some people fear learning about marriage equality will ‘sexually confuse’ their children. Some insist marriage is and can only be holy.
The discussion about detailed sexual education in kindergarten and primary school should stand completely separate from the discussion about granting a group of people a human right.
Yet in Stuttgart, parents demanding their children be exempt from sex ed, take to the streets out of fear to see their children ‘turned gay’ by what they learn in school. The movement is slowly spreading.
The narrative of these groups sees learning about gay relationships, marriage equality and other LGBTI issues as a ploy, a mere tool of what critics call the ‘homo lobby’, to confuse children, make them question their gender and sexuality and turn them gay.
Children aren’t prematurely sexualized just because men can marry men or women can marry women; but denying a right on the basis of reducing same-sex relationships to being just about sex devalues thousands of Germans’ personal lives.
Saying gay marriage goes against Christian values, and declaring marriage ‘holy’, opens a wholly different can of worms.
Germany is, de facto, a secular state with a clear separation between church and state. As such, the Bible shouldn’t have any influence over the constitution and laws made in the country shouldn’t be based on religion.
Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union carries a religious outset in its name, yes, but their values are essentially conservative and they don’t try and implement draconian laws making divorce or abortion illegal.
Fact is a small but vocal group of people can’t get over their fear of the unknown, of something that doesn’t fit in with their idea of normality, and their more or less subtly spread messages of rejection are penetrating certain parts of society.
If Christian values (ie mainly Catholic values) ruled the country, even fewer women would return to work after having children and birth control would be illegal. Right now, people are using religion to cherry pick the rules they agree with.
There is no such thing as ‘equal enough’, at least not in my Germany. There’s either equality or inequality.
We’re worried about our international reputation, especially in light of the Greek crisis, but no one dares to turn Germany into the progressive, modern country it wants to be and believes it is.
If the government were as keen on equality for everyone as they are on having rules and laws for every aspect of daily life – from book prices to how to address a police officer and yes, laws on what constitutes real beer – Germany would already be a more equal place.
As it stands, and with the government we’re stuck with for the next two years – and looking at predictions, possibly the next six years – I fear that marriage equality will continue to fall off the list, to be solved long after more important questions, like who’ll have to pay car toll and who won’t, have been settled.