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Germany, Lauded For Welcoming Gays, Lags In Granting Rights


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Most of the countries where same-sex couples enjoy the same rights as heterosexual ones are in Western Europe. Their governments have legalized marriage and adoption rights for gays and lesbians. Now, Germany has been acclaimed for being especially welcoming to gays and lesbians but its government is lagging behind in giving them equal rights.

And although Germans overwhelmingly support gay rights, the current government's handling of the issue could cost critical votes in national elections that are being held there tomorrow. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has the story from Berlin.


SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: It's a tad chaotic in the sprawling Berlin apartment where the two young children of Thomas Welter and Ingmar Zoeller repeatedly badger their dads for more television time. The men say they love being parents and having a family, even if it was a struggle getting to this point. Welter says the main hurdle was bias, not from relatives, friends or neighbors, but from the German government.

THOMAS WELTER: Our society in Germany is much, much more advanced with the topic of equal rights for gay and lesbian couples, and it's rather surprisingly that politics is following so slowly.

NELSON: Government bias against same-sex couples made it impossible for Welter and Zoeller to adopt in Germany, so the couple headed to the Chicago area where 9-year old Julius and 5-year-old Lucie were born. When the men brought their adopted children back to Germany, the government refused to legally recognize them as a regular family. It allowed only one of them, in this case Welter, to be the legal parent.

Nor were Welter and Zoeller allowed to marry in the same manner as heterosexual couples do here. For the past 11 years, the men have been in what's called an Eingetragene Lebenspartnerschaft, or registered life partnership, which offers fewer rights than a heterosexual marriage.

WELTER: If you look at the polls, you always find that three-quarter of the population has the opinion that gay and lesbians should have the same rights than heterosexual couples have. And the people are more surprised - I thought it was already this way, but it isn't.

NELSON: Despite these polls, Chancellor Angela Merkel's government refuses to introduce legislation that provides equal rights for same-sex couples. Earlier this month at a town hall meeting hosted by the public television network ARD, a German voter argued with Merkel over whether same-sex couples should be treated the same as heterosexual ones when it comes to adoption.


NELSON: The Chancellor said she couldn't explain why, but that she opposes adoption rights for same-sex couples. While her government refuses to budge, same-sex couples have found a champion in the German court system. Earlier this year, the highest court in the land issued two landmark rulings on gay rights, one allowing gay parents like Zoeller to legally adopt their partner's children; and the other, giving equal tax benefits to same-sex couples as heterosexual ones.

Jenny Caruso is a retired American lieutenant colonel who lives with her German wife in the southern city of Karlsruhe. She welcomed the recent rulings, but said it's troubling that Merkel's ruling party, the Christian Democratic Union, time and again relies on courts to handle gay rights.

JENNY CARUSO: The ruling government, the CDU, was, well, we're not even going to say a word about it because that way we can tell our conservative folks we didn't vote for it, the supreme court made us do it, which I think is kind of weak when it comes to leadership. And I suppose that may bear out in the next election, hopefully.

NELSON: Jens Spahn, who was a conservative gay Christian Democrat in parliament, agrees that it's bad politics to let the courts set German policy on gay rights.

JENS SPAHN: Parliamentarian work is about action, not reaction, and we should not have to wait for a constitutional court to tell us what to do. We should decide on our own what's right or wrong.

NELSON: Spahn says he hopes to persuade the party he and Merkel belong to to be more proactive on the question of full adoption rights for same-sex couples. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.