By Lina and Maria
When I heard the news about a new kind of civil union for same-sex couples being written into law back in 2001, I was a newly out 14-year-old kid. I’d just come home from school and up to this point had been blissfully unaware of the legal implications of being a queer person in a heterosexist world. Ever since that day I have belonged to a privileged generation of LGBT-folks that grew up knowing that their country acknowledges their relationships at least to some degree.
As it turns out though, the original law wasn’t really something to get all that excited about; though it permits civil unions (which go by one of the most unromantic names in the history of holy matrimony – registered life-partnerships) it’s still very discriminatory. For example, it isn’t possible for same-sex couples to adopt children together, insemination for non-married women is not legal and until a few months ago people couldn’t adopt their same-sex partners’ adopted children. Basically, the existing law for same-sex unions has been a huge, flawed compromise for the past 12 years. But now it’s going to change, one big chunk at a time.
The fight for marriage equality in Germany started much earlier than 2001:
Since then, almost every important German party has changed their stance on marriage equality. Abolishing two separate institutions in favor of marriage for everyone would be even closer if it wasn’t for the now again ruling Christian Democratic Union and our chancellor Merkel, who has time and again chosen to take the side of her more conservative party-members. Change is especially hard to come by when the constitution states that “marriage and familywp_posts– whatever that is – are to be especially protected under the law. And – big surprise – a lot of people still interpret the “marriage and familywp_postspart as two straight people making their own biological babies. So what’s a queer to do? File an exhausting lot of lawsuits against their own country!
Which takes us to our current situation: ruling after ruling by a kick-ass Federal Constitutional Court is slowly forcing our very resistant government to take action. This is much-needed progress because even though our minister of foreign affairs, Guido Westerwelle, is gay, this government has done little for LGBT people that it wasn’t forced to do – and even then it has a tendency to drag things out. Surprisingly though, even in the more conservative German parties, there are people like our Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Ursula von der Leyen, who are now speaking out in favor of marriage equality.
In February the court ruled that the existing ban on gay couples adopting each other’s children is unconstitutional. But the bigger decision was yet to come. This ruling would finally pave the way for a more thorough redefinition of marriage and family in Germany and it was on everyone’s favorite topic: taxation.
German family law is still rather patriarchal and tax law, especially is an antifeminist shitshow. It was once designed for married couples with one breadwinner (the man) and someone who works little to not at all (the woman). Spouses can split the taxes equally between them – both incomes are added, then split in half and then taxed – so that the spouse with the higher wage pays a lot less in taxes than if the whole original wage was to be taxed. This system benefits married couples with or without children, but leaves out people who raise children together but are not married, single-parents and – until last week – same-sex couples. This type of income taxation was held up as a sort of holy grail by opponents of marriage equality who liked to argue that only “realwp_postsfamilies with children should benefit from tax cuts.
Last Thursday, this issue was put aside once and for all. 12 years after I listened to the news on the radio after school and my baby-dyke heart jumped with naïve joy, it was announced that tax cuts are for same-sex couples are effective immediately.
The previous law was one of the biggest and most incomprehensible differences between civil marriages and registered partnerships: Same-sex couples had to support each other financially –for example, in the case of unemployment – but didn’t get the same financial benefits from being in a legally acknowledged relationship as different-sex couples. A major divider and a big part of the existing inequality in family law will now seize to exist. And because I am an optimist my first thought that morning was that this is it, that with this landmark the fight for marriage equality is as good as won. Maybe this biggest step of all will take another couple of years, but there’s next to nothing in its way now. The tone of the media coverage, like the opinions of our political parties, has changed and German mainstream media tend to depict the changes that are currently happening as something self-evident.
And yet, it’s a bittersweet victory. We are still catering to the patriarchal standards and our tax system still is the same old joke it’s always been. Some people even argue that this is nothing to be happy about because the system itself is so flawed. I have never believed that two wrongs make a right and so as long as these family laws and tax system exist – even if it takes another couple of decades to change them – I want same-sex couples to benefit from our weirdo laws like different-sex couples do. Not all LGBT-people want to overthrow the patriarchy, some really do want to get married. To them I’d say let ’em have it; Marriage equality is an exclusively gay issue, while overthrowing the whole system isn’t. And the most important upside of having full on marriage equality is that changes in family law will automatically include same-sex couples, too.
I so hope that the fight for marriage equality finally opens up other dialogues that are really needed in our society: What defines a family? Why is biological parenthood so important to us? What about single-parents, and what about children with more than two parents? And why tax benefits for two breadwinners with no kids?
In September we have a federal election, which puts a lot of pressure on the current government. The Christian Democratic Union’s unwillingness to change their mind on this issue could turn out badly for them. The consequences of 12 years of a bad compromise are only now showing; people are fed up with the existing inequality and their government constantly chickening out. Even though Germany has once again only won a partial battle , a sense of change is in the air.
About the author: Maria is a queer femme from Germany and an A-Camp alumnus. She’s always looking for straddlers to meet up in Berlin.