By Sebastian Pfeffer
The German parliament has rejected a proposal for same-sex marriage. Despite a lack of good arguments against marriage equality, gay, lesbian, and bisexual Germans remain second-class citizens as homophobic moralists triumph once again.
I'm tired of it. I'm tired of people who purport to know what is right and wrong beyond those things that actually harm someone. The whole stinking essence of moralist arguments collapses onto itself.
Should Heather be allowed to marry Maria, or should John and Tom be allowed to tie the knot? Of course, because same-sex marriage doesn't harm anyone but brings joy to two people. Unfortunately, Germany, a supposedly progressive country, hasn't evolved beyond the level of seedy beer-hall discussions. We have not yet freed ourselves from old prejudices. The parliament's decision last week illustrated how deep homophobia still runs in our society and in our political system. Two parties, the Greens and the Social Democrats, had introduced a separate bill that would have immediately legalized same-sex marriage or tasked the government with drafting a law that would do so in the near future. The two government parties, the liberals and the conservatives, voted against the bill.
What madness! Germany currently has a gay foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, who represents his country to the world and whose vote might mean the difference between war and peace, yet he is not allowed to marry his long-time partner. His own party voted against the bill! One might rush to their defense and say that the liberals had no other choice and had to vote in lockstep with their conservative coalition partner. Liberals, we hear, didn't really vote their conscience. What cowards.
Sad Atmosphere of a Notary's Office
In Germany, marriage enjoys special constitutional protection. Those who marry are endowed with special duties, rights, and privileges: Spouses vouch for each other, pay lower taxes, and enjoy other benefits, as well. Same-sex couples are forced to remain satisfied with a civil union, don't enjoy comparable (tax) benefits, and cannot get married at the civil registry. Instead, their bond is sanctioned in the sad atmosphere of a notary's office. They are not officially recognized as marriage partners by the state. But why not?
Two arguments are always presented in the fight against marriage equality: According to the first argument, marriage should be restricted to a man and a woman because their union alone is capable of producing children. That's the argument embraced by the German constitutional court, which ruled that special marriage protection was justified as the basis of a "lasting, legally formed, and fundamentally indissoluble union of man and woman." But the argument can easily be debunked: Not all men and women have children, more and more marriages end in divorce, and same-sex couples can also "have children," thanks to advances in medical technology.
If it was our goal to recognize the societal importance of partnerships with children, there are plenty of ways to provide additional support outside the framework of marriage. But it is outright cowardly when parliamentarians justify their decision with reference to the constitutional court. Laws are made in parliament, not in a judge's chamber. If the parliament passed a law that legalized same-sex marriage on the basis of freedom and equality for all people, no court would sack it.
Abnormal Anomalies of Nature
We are thus left with a second argument: A man ought not lie with a man, nor a woman with another woman. It's an argument based in religion, in a diffuse "morality," or in some other form of questionable logic. In its essence, it says: We know what society ought to look like, and the state must not try and legislate to the contrary. Advocates of this line of argument cannot help but see homosexuals as less worthy, and as less deserving of government protection.
This, then, is the core of the issue: Opponents of same-sex marriage regard homosexuals as contrary to established order and traditions, as abnormal, as anomalies of nature.
But those arguments are highly questionable. It might even be an evolutionary advantage when a part of the population devotes their lives to the building of world empires (Frederick of Prussia), to composing eternal hymns (Freddie Mercury), to lasting works of literature (William Shakespeare), to artistic world fame (Marlene Dietrich) or to overall genius (Leonardo da Vinci). Maybe it's a good thing that not everyone spends their prime years changing diapers, lacking sleep, and working long and lonely hours because they've got offspring to feed and clothe. Scientists are seriously discussing the evolutionary advantages of homosexuality.
But in any case, a liberal state must not rule on the merits of a particular way of life. A religious denomination can decide its own rules and refuse to marry gays and lesbians. Nobody is forced to subscribe to its particular set of beliefs. But the state doesn't have that freedom. When a couple decides to get married, it doesn't matter whether they are men or women or black or white or Catholic or Protestant. Any discrimination on those grounds constitutes a degrading interference with basic rights. No good argument exists against same-sex marriage, and it is a scandal (and quite revealing) that the German parliament has refused to defend it.
This piece originally appeared in The European Magazine.