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Partnership, in part.

A new German law marks progress but still leaves a little to be desired

After Germany's highest court let the country's new gay partnership law stand, 50 gay and lesbian couples made appointments for a ceremony at Dortmund's city hall within 24 hours. "It's crazy," Walter Heinrich, a clerk, told the Tagesspiegel newspaper of Berlin. "The telephone won't stop ringing."

Unfortunately, none of these couples--nor the thousands of others who plan to get hitched in other cities--know for certain if recognition of their partnerships will last. The high court's move July 18 rejected an attempt by two conservative southern states to block the law before it took effect. But the underlying case will still be heard sometime in the next year, and lawmakers are already trying to figure out what will happen to the country's newly minted couples if the law, first passed by parliament in fall 2000, is ruled unconstitutional.

Unlike the law in the neighboring Netherlands, Germany's new statute does not grant gay couples full marriage rights. Instead, it extends 61 rights to gay couples who register, including the right to share a last name, make decisions in a medical emergency, and inherit a partner's estate upon death. Foreigners receive full residency status if their partner is a German citizen. But gays still won't enjoy any of the tax breaks heterosexual spouses receive, nor does the law give registered couples the right to adopt.

"There are parts of the gay community that say that it is still insulting to us that we are not getting exactly the same rights as our brothers and sisters," says Diederich Grosse-Wilde, general manager of Gofelix, a marketing firm targeting gay consumers.

But Volker Beck, a leader of the Green Party who has pushed 11 years for the law, says, "This is a huge step for a country like Germany. There are certain areas where the law is not so strong, but we will not be completely satisfied until we have fully equal rights."

Beck himself was reported to be planning a marriage with his longtime boyfriend, though he then said Bild, the magazine that had run the story, never had permission to quote him. Leftist circles chastised Beck's disavowal, but he tells The Advocate, "I will only talk about that, even with the gay press, when it is time.... I want to keep my private life private." Instead, Beck planned to attend a wedding ceremony for 15 couples in Hamburg on August 1.

According to Kees Waaldijk, a gay-marriage expert at Leiden University in the Netherlands, "Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, Iceland--and even Vermont--have more comprehensive partnership laws" than Germany has. But as HBO features the documentary Paragraph 175 (about the Nazi persecution of gays) and movie theaters screen Hedwig and the Angry Inch (the fictional tale of a young man who undergoes a sex change--that ends up botched--partly to escape East Berlin), it's difficult to deny that this new law is another sign of tremendous progress in a country that was once so intolerant of differences.

"What this [law] is, is an acknowledgment that gays should have equal rights," Grosse-Wilde says. "Germany is nowadays very conscious about being open and tolerant, and this is an important part of that."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Germany new law regarding same sex marriage lacks punch
Author:Schuerman, Matthew
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Aug 28, 2001
Previous Article:First the Wall now the closet.

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