BERLIN – Germany legalized same-sex marriage on Friday, joining many other Western democracies in granting gay couples full rights, including adoption.
The election-year bill was pushed by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leftist rivals, who pounced on a U-turn she made Monday — a maneuver that left many of her conservative lawmakers fuming.
The lower house, the Bundestag, approved the law hours before heading into summer recess.
Gay groups cheered the push for marriage equality in Germany, where so-called civil unions were legalized in 2001.
The law likely will take effect this year.
Merkel voted against the bill on Friday, saying she did so because she believes German law sees marriage as between a man and a woman — but she added that the opposite view must be respected.
The rapid series of events kicked off with an on-stage interview Merkel gave Monday to the women’s magazine Brigitte, in which an audience member asked her, “When can I call my boyfriend my husband if I want to marry him?”
Merkel, who long opposed gay marriage with adoption rights, citing “the well-being of the children,” replied that her thinking had shifted since she met a lesbian couple who cared for eight foster children.
She said she favored a vote at an undefined future time when all lawmakers could follow their conscience rather than a party line.
Many read the surprising comments as a move to deny opposition parties a strong campaign issue before Sept. 24 elections.
Merkel’s coalition allies the Social Democrats (SPD), as well as the Greens, far-left Linke and pro-business Free Democrats have all declared a gay marriage law as a red-line demand and precondition for an alliance.
And on Tuesday, after much buzz on social media, SPD chancellor-candidate Martin Schulz took Merkel at her word and broke coalition ranks to call for an immediate vote — a move the CDU slammed as a “breach of trust” after four years of joint rule.
Merkel indignantly labeled the political ambush and hasty rush to vote on such a weighty issue “sad and, above all, totally unnecessary.”
But her change of stance leaves the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) as the only party to oppose same-sex marriage.
Conservative daily the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung predicted that, after the vote, “it will be said Angela Merkel has avoided another stumbling block to post-election coalition talks.”
“But the CDU will also have lost its right to be called a conservative party — and instead now appears willing to throw any conservative values overboard in order to keep up with the times.”
Markus Ulrich of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany said Merkel had long argued against gay marriage “in an emotional way and never with real arguments.”
“It’s very good that she took some time to better understand the reality of same-sex families and couples, in order to get a better picture of the situation.
“We think it’s very good and, even if this is happening only because of the electoral campaign, it doesn’t matter.”