North-south divide

North-south divide

Same-sex wedding couples as cake figures © Wolfgang Kumm

The Bundestag passed "marriage for all" on Friday. In many European countries, marriage between homosexual partners is already enshrined in law. But not all states are following the trend, for example in Eastern Europe.

On the "Old Continent" of Europe, marriage law has been changing in a serious way for years. Now this also applies to Germany. The Bundestag decided on Friday in Berlin that homosexual couples in Germany will be able to marry in the future.

The majority in parliament came from the SPD, the Greens, the Left Party and several CDU/CSU delegates – even though Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) voted no because of constitutional concerns, as she explained afterwards. Germany's decision is in line with the trend: more and more countries in Europe are putting homosexual partnerships on an equal footing with traditional marriage.

Countrywide differences

In some northern and western European countries in particular, gay and lesbian couples are now fully equal to heterosexuals. The situation is different in many countries in Eastern and Southern Europe. In recent years, however, even traditionally Catholic countries such as Italy and Ireland introduced same-sex partnerships.

Although gay couples have been allowed to marry in France since 2013, the so-called Taubira law continues to cause debate. Named after former Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, the law opens up the concept of marriage and allows adoption rights for same-sex couples.

In Italy, "gay marriage" has been allowed since 2016. Homosexual couples are allowed to be married by a civil servant. In court, from the tax office, in hospital and in the event of death, they are treated like spouses. However, there is no right to adopt the children of the life partner.

In Ireland, same-sex marriage was allowed by referendum in 2015, prompting strong criticism from the Vatican. 62 percent of Irish people were in favor of marriage "regardless of gender". In Great Britain, lesbian and gay couples have been able to marry since 2014 – but the regulation does not apply to Northern Ireland.

The Netherlands made the beginning

In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to introduce civil marriage for same-sex couples as well. There homosexual couples can also adopt children. Belgium, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Portugal have also now extended the concept of marriage to homosexuals. With the exception of Portugal, same-sex couples there also have adoption rights.

Denmark, which was the first country in the world to allow registered civil partnerships for same-sex couples in 1989, introduced "gay marriage" in 2012. There and in Sweden, gay and lesbian couples can also marry in the houses of worship of the state Evangelical Lutheran Church.

In 2006, the Czech Republic became the first post-communist country to recognize homosexual couples. Forms of registered partnerships also exist in Slovenia, Hungary, Switzerland and, since 2010, Austria.

By contrast, the majority of Eastern and Southeastern European countries continue not to recognize same-sex partnerships. In Poland, for example, several attempts to legalize such unions failed. Russia is far from recognizing homosexual couples: "Homosexual propaganda" is punishable there; this includes rallies or talks about homosexuality in public.

"Gay marriage" not a human right

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in June 2016 that "gay marriage" was not a human right. Council of Europe member states would still have the right to define marriage as an exclusive legal institution for man and woman.

The Strasbourg judges explicitly stated that "states remain free to open marriage to heterosexual couples only and have some leeway" to decide on the exact nature of the legal institution they want to grant to other couples as a form of legal recognition.

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Christina Cherry
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