German Lawmakers to Vote on Gay Marriage After Merkel Opens Door

(Bloomberg) -- Germany’s parliament is set to vote on allowing gay marriage after Chancellor Angela Merkel cleared the way by hinting she backs same-sex unions, breaking with her Christian Democratic party’s tradition in an election-year shift.

With polls suggesting that a majority of Germans back gay marriage, passage of the bill would align Merkel with the social mainstream and make it harder for opponents to attack her on the topic. At the same time, socially conservative lawmakers in her party bloc are expected to withhold support for the measure in a roll-call vote at about 9 a.m. on Friday in Berlin.

Merkel’s coalition partner and main election opponent, the Social Democratic Party, forced her hand this week and called for an immediate vote after the chancellor suggested in an interview panel that she was abandoning her opposition to gay marriage. That pushed the issue to the top of Germany’s political agenda in the last week before lawmakers go on summer recess ahead of the national election on Sept. 24.

“It’s unclear whether she intended this, but it certainly won’t harm her,” said Manfred Guellner, head of the Forsa polling company, whose latest weekly poll gives Merkel’s Christian Democrat-led bloc a 17 percentage-point lead over the SPD. “On the contrary, the topic will no longer bother Merkel during the election campaign because it will be gone.”

Legalizing gay marriage would bring Germany into line with many of its European Union partners, including France, Spain and Ireland, and the U.S., where the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry in all 50 states.

SPD Pressure

Merkel opened the door in a talk with two journalists on Monday, speaking favorably of a lesbian couple she had met in her parliamentary district and suggesting that lawmakers vote their conscience if the matter came to a vote. The next morning, Martin Schulz, the SPD’s candidate for the chancellorship, demanded a ballot this week.

Merkel gave further signals of her stance in an interview with WirtschaftsWoche magazine published Thursday.

“I’ve been guided for many years by the conviction that same-sex partnerships live by the same values as marriages of men and women,” she was quoted as saying. “Now, the fundamental question of whether marriage should be open to same-sex partners is indeed back on the agenda.”