(Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing an election-year showdown over gay marriage, with her coalition partner and main challenger forcing her hand with a parliamentary vote this week.
Three months before Germans go to the polls, the maneuver by the Social Democrats sharpens the clash between the two biggest parties before lawmakers head into summer recess on Friday. Merkel told members of her Christian Democratic-led bloc at a closed-door caucus meeting on Tuesday that they could vote their conscience, a party official said.
The political wrangling on a socially polarizing issue marks the biggest conflict yet between Merkel and Social Democratic candidate Martin Schulz. A lower-house vote to allow same-sex unions will involve the Social Democrats siding with the opposition Green and Left parties, a first since Merkel formed a government with the SPD in 2013.
“We believe that you don’t have to wait, you can take the decision this week,” Schulz told reporters Tuesday in Berlin.
The chancellor said Monday she envisioned a vote on the issue after the election. But hours after the Social Democrats called for the ballot, Merkel cleared the way for her lawmakers to vote as they wish.
Volker Kauder, Merkel’s parliamentary caucus leader, accused the SPD of a “breach of trust” and said Merkel’s bloc wasn’t endorsing the bill.
As longtime supporters of gay marriage, the Social Democrats are playing up the issue as they trail Merkel’s bloc in polls ahead of the election on Sept. 24.
At a party conference on Sunday, Schulz stepped up his attacks on Merkel, accusing her of shirking political conflict being too accommodating with President Donald Trump.
Germany’s opposition-dominated upper house of parliament has passed gay-marriage legislation, but it hasn’t been taken up in the lower house, where Merkel’s bloc is the biggest faction. Germany allows legal partnerships for homosexual couples but doesn’t recognize gay marriage.
The Christian Democratic parliamentary whip, Michael Grosse-Broemer, said earlier Tuesday there’s no need for a “rushed” decision on the issue and a vote can wait until after the election.