AS YOU might expect, Germany’s Catholic hierarchs were less than thrilled when legislators voted on June 30th, by 393 votes to 226, to legalise same-sex marriage. Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin was one of many top clerics who voiced the church’s view that a distinction between civil partnership, for gay couples, and marriage, for heterosexual ones, ought to be kept. The decision to do away with it, he grumbled,
"abandons the differentiated perception of various forms of partnership in order to stress the value of same-sex partnerships...Differentiation isn’t discrimination, and same-sex cohabitation can be valued through other institutional arrangements without opening up the legal institute of marriage."
But in truth, public opposition to the change has been relatively muffled, especially when compared to the huge street demonstrations by social conservatives which were triggered by a similar measure in France in 2013.
The very fact that German bishops insist they see some value in same-sex partnerships (so long as they are not described as marriage) might be surprising to an American who is accustomed to tooth-and-nail culture wars.
In France, gay marriage became law in May 2013. Street protests by social conservatives, including four huge rallies in Paris within six months, failed to stop the change. But they made history nonetheless, as unexpectedly large social and political phenomena.
True to the movement’s name—Manif pour Tous (Protest for All)—the French gatherings brought together a broad coalition. Some came from the political right and far-right: there were well-heeled Catholics from posh parts of Paris, poorer ones from the provinces and some Muslims. Some supporters even spoke the language of the anti-capitalist left, arguing that gay adoptions and surrogacy might lead to a heartless market in embryos. To some extent, the movement simply capitalised on the general unpopularity of François Hollande, then the Socialist president.
Germany, too, has seen street demonstrations in imitation of the French ones, under an identical banner, Demo für Alle. As in France, the rallies have received discreet encouragement from politicians and clerics. But the German assemblies (focused in particular on moves to liberalise education about sex and gender) have been smaller, and they have drawn counter-demonstrations. It is still possible that same-sex marriage will be contested in Germany, on grounds that it violates the constitution. But the argument will be conducted in the courts, not on the streets.
This Franco-German contrast seems paradoxical. Although each country comprises a wide spectrum of opinion, German social norms are in some ways more conservative than French ones. Read more via the Economist