First same-sex couple to marry in Germany celebrate after long wait

Karl Kreile and Bodo Mende, the first to take advantage of the countrys new statute, strolled down the aisle in Berlin

As they entered the golden room of Schoneberg town hall to the stress of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, Bodo Mende and Karl Kreile were only doing what tens of thousands of other couples had did before- tying the knot in front of friends and family in the southern Berlin district.

But they were also making history as the first same-sex couple able to marry in Germany, after a new statute came into force which eventually puts gay and lesbian couples on an equal legal footing with heterosexuals.

” After 38 years together, this is a day we’ve waited a long time for ,” 59 -year-old Kreile told the Guardian ahead of Sunday’s ceremony.” We’ve actively campaigned for decades for the nation to recognise us as equals. and finally we are able to celebrate a day we once guessed may never come in our lifetimes .”

Mende, 60, said it was a” huge accolade” for the couple to be the first in Germany to marry.” I recollect the dishonor we felt when we were turned away from a registry office 25 years ago when we confronted the registrar as part of an organised protest. They constructed us feel like second-class citizens .”

Instead of feeling like pariahs, Kreile and Mende were on Sunday elevated to the status of heroes. Many of those who had campaigned with the couple over the years clapped and cheered alongside them as they kissed after saying their vows and signed their matrimony documents.

Germany has now become the 14 th European country to legalise lesbian matrimony, and the 23 rd worldwide following an historical Bundestag vote in June.

Gordon Holland, the registrar overseeing the ceremony, said Schoneberg was proud to be” firing a symbolic starter handgun “. Since the 1920 s, the district has been a centre for gay and lesbian life, its free-spirited culture immortalised in the fictions of Britain’s Christopher Isherwood, who lived in different districts. It has also been the centre stage, over the decades, of strident battles for homosexual rights, a reputation it first earned when it held the world’s first gay demo in 1922.

” Schoneberg has been shaped by the way it has stood up for gay rights for the best part of a century ,” said Mende, who has lived there for years.” The world’s first homosexual and trans bars started here, and it has survived two world wars and many attempts to eliminate it ,” he added, remembering the thousands of homosexuals from the district who were murdered by the Nazis.” So it’s fitting we’re here again today to mark this historic moment ,.”

Since 2001, same-sex couples in Germany have been allowed to register civil partnerships. At the time they were introduced, Germany was praised by campaigners for its trailblazer role. But it went on to lag behind other countries that subsequently introduced gay wedding. When Ireland induced it legal in 2015, German campaigners called it highly embarrassing that Germany had been beaten even by a country with strong Catholic roots.

In June, apparently caught off-guard by a question on gay marriage fired at her at an event hosted by a women’s publication, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she believed same-sex partnerships were” just as valuable” as heterosexual ones. The U-turn following years in which she had defied devoting the questions her supporting was confiscated on by the Social Democrat( SPD ), junior partners in her government, who called a snap vote on it ahead of the summer recess. The motion considered 393 voting in favour of its adoption, to 226 against. Merkel, who invited MPs to vote according to their conscience, voted against the move.

Mende said he still did not know whether he should feel grateful towards Merkel.” Was it political calculus, to take the wind out of the SPD’s sails, or was it one of those things that just happened by accident, like the opening of the Berlin Wall ?” he said, referring to the gaffe made by East German functionary Gunter Schabowski that unwittingly led to the opening of the wall.

But, he added, amid the political upheaval caused by Germany’s election last Sunday, in which the far right Alternative fur Deutschland won 94 seats in the Bundestag, lesbian rights campaigners were under no illusion that such a vote would be as easy to push through under the future government.

Karl
Karl Kreile and Bodo Mende cutting their cake. The slogan reads” matrimony for all “. Photograph: Odd Andersen/ AFP/ Getty Images

Jorg Steinert, head of the Berlin branch of Germany’s lesbian and lesbian association LSVD said now couples would be able to adopt, to enjoy equal tax and inheritance rights and the right to determine end-of-life care for a partner. Some issues still remain unresolved however, including women not having motherhood of a lesbian partner’s child automatically recognised.

Following their rite, Mende and Kreile cut into a huge wedding cake decorated with a rainbow and the phrase” Ehe fur alle”,( wedding for all ). The reception was to be followed by a short break for the two bureaucrats in Vienna.

” We partied big when we celebrated our civil partnership in 2002, so we don’t feel the need to do so in quite the same style this time ,” said Kreile.” Since then we’ve referred to each other as’ husband ‘, but the state has not insured it that way. We’re relieved they came here round eventually .”

But one obstacle still remains for the couple. Their union cannot yet be entered in the wedding register because the software has yet to be updated to allow for two entries with the same sex.

” Having built such a leap in other ways, it’s a bit embarrassing for the German state that they couldn’t rise to such a straightforward digital challenge ,” said Steinert.

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