STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
In Germany's Parliament today, lawmakers cast a vote they'd been discussing for about 25 years, a vote to make the German marriage law open to all.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking German).
INSKEEP: Lawmakers applauding there after making Germany the 15th European Union country to legalize same-sex marriage. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is covering this story from Berlin. And Soraya, why would this vote happen now given that it's been on the agenda for so many years?
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, some are saying that it might be an election ploy. And certainly at this stage here - and the elections are coming up in September, as you may know. At this stage in Germany, a poll recently - or actually, it was last year - showed that 83 percent of Germans support same-sex marriage. And even a majority in Chancellor Merkel's party, the CDU, are said to favor it. So this was seen as a potential stumbling block if they didn't have this vote to her forming a new coalition, a ruling coalition after the September elections, as people here seem to feel that she is going to win again.
So it was interesting 'cause earlier this week during a conversation with journalists from a women's magazine, Brigitte, she said that MPs should vote their conscience on the same-sex marriage thing. That freed basically the Parliament up from party lines - from having to rule or to vote on party lines, as she wanted this vote to happen after the election with the new Parliament in session. But her opponents were having none of it, so they forced it onto the last day, which was today.
INSKEEP: So Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, as powerful and as popular as she is, was on the opposite side of the public from this for a long time, right? She was the person who was resisting even letting the vote happen. And how did she finally vote when she got a chance to cast a vote?
NELSON: Well, she voted no.
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CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Speaking German).
NELSON: And she was telling journalists afterwards that she voted against amending the law because Germany's constitution defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Many in her party support that same position, and the comments suggest that a court challenge could be in the offing.
INSKEEP: Oh, so there might actually be a constitutional challenge here. Well, what rights did same-sex couples have before today's vote anyway?
NELSON: They have civil partnerships, so they can actually engage in a legal or formal relationship that is recognized by the courts and by the country. And that's what the no voters were saying - is, like, why do we need to open this up further? They also have adoption rights. Same-sex couples have adoption rights that have been won in courts. But in the end, same-sex couples and their proponents were saying the fair and right thing to do is to make marriage available to all. And they say that equality - this equality formally moves German society not just into tolerating homosexuality but accepting it.
INSKEEP: OK. So this is a dramatic move for same-sex couples across Germany. But you said it was also a political move with an election looming. And you have a chancellor who allowed a vote on something she opposes, voted against it and lost. Her side lost on the vote. Who benefits?
NELSON: Well, surprisingly, it could be her in the end, Chancellor Merkel. She's already way ahead of anybody else in the polls. And this issue, which opposition parties said was a sticking point for forming any new government is now out of the way. But her main challengers are the Social Democrats, and Martin Schulz, their leader, are really going to be hammering home that they forced the issue to be voted on this term - that they were, in fact, the leaders. They also defend the delay so long - so far as being something that they had no choice about because of the fact that they were part of the ruling coalition and had to follow Merkel's lead.
NELSON: So we'll have to see how that plays out.
INSKEEP: OK. That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin.
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