Germany’s Vote On Same-Sex Marriage: Blessing Or Curse For Angela Merkel?
June 30, 2017
By FTI Consulting
On election day, Sunday, September 24, 6pm, we will know if the last week of June was a turning point in the race for the German chancellorship. Already now, we know it was a special week in Germany. It was the last week of ordinary plenary debates in the German parliament and therefore the last chance to adopt legislation until the formation of a new government in probably October 2017.
In the last couple of weeks, several parties held their party conferences. One item on the agendawas shared by all: same-sex marriage, or as it’s called in Germany: marriage for all (Ehe für alle), already reality in 13 European states but so far not in Germany. The Social Democrats with its frontrunner Martin Schulz announced that they would not enter a new coalition if marriage between people of the same sex is not part of the new government’s programme. Other parties such as the Greens, the Liberal Democrats and the Left party were arguing for same-sex marriage as part of their election campaigns. As a result only Merkel’s conservative CDU with Bavarian sister party CSU and populist party AfD were against it.
On Monday, 26 June Angela Merkel was at an event hosted by Brigitte, Germany’s largest women’s magazine, in Berlin. An audience question on same-sex marriage came up and Merkel took a couple of minutes winding trying to avoid answering the question (see video here) – some say this is her style. In the end, she said she took the issue as a “question of conscience” which she aimed to have decided in the next legislative term, after the elections, leaving all MP’s to follow their personal conviction on the matter, rather than compelling them to vote along party lines.
From here, opinions drift apart: Has this been a clever move or a mistake by Merkel? Did she think she can use the topic for her election campaign until September? Had she relied too much on her SPD partners sticking to the rules of their coalition agreement? Didn’t she realize that there is one week left for legislation-making?
Fact is: The SPD forced the CDU to schedule a vote on the latest possible day to pass legislation – Friday, 30 June. At an earlier date, this move by the SPD would have led to a collapse of the grand coalition, as its constituting parties are committed not to seek majorities outside of their alliance.
Politicians of CDU and CSU were now being confronted with the question if homosexual couples should be granted full adoption rights as well – as this would be guaranteed by full marriage rights.
The vote in Parliament showed 393 pro and 226 con – while 4 abstained, and Frau Merkel now has three new problems on her table: One is that her own Christian Democratic Party is in turmoil, with a split vote on a major political issue. Second, her authority is diminished, as this is a clear case of the SPD tail wagging the CDU dog. And third, only on September 24 will we know how the electorate appreciated this latest turn-around of their Chancellor. It might well be that it will cost Merkel votes in conservative circles willing to return their political support to the populist AfD.
In the end, her move on same-sex marriage underlined Merkel’s style of governing. One cannot really tell if it’s left or right. Merkel voted against marriage for all – if this was really her conscience speaking only she knows.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting LLP, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals, members or employees.
Ms. Buckow began her career with a traineeship at the European Commission in Brussels before moving to Berlin where she has been advising clients on public affairs strategy since 2013. During her studies in London, Bath, Copenhagen and Berlin she also gained work experience at the Permanent Mission of Germany to the UN in New York and the German Bundestag. She is an expert in digital communications.