Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gay Germans Tap Oktoberfest to Make Push for Marriage Rights

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gay Germans Tap Oktoberfest to Make Push for Marriage Rights

Article excerpt

By early afternoon on the first Sunday of Oktoberfest this past weekend, the Brurosl beer tent in Munich was already filled with thousands of merry revelers in lederhosen, singing and drinking.

At one table, Christian Schrder, an electrician from Stuttgart, sat with his partner of 10 years, Thomas Hartmann. This is to the gays! Mr. Schrder shouted. The right to do this is what we fight for!

Theres a simple rule at Munichs world-famous Oktoberfest: Its all about the fun. Politics isnt supposed to play a role at all in the 16-day event, which annually attracts more than 5 million visitors and floods Munich with parties, parties, and more parties.

But at Oktoberfest celebrations like Gay Sunday one of several events dedicated to gays and lesbians that now draw thousands of revelers politics has inevitably seeped into the mix. At a time when gay Germans are fighting hard for the right to marry, activists quietly say that their increasingly high visibility at Oktoberfest perhaps the most quintessentially German cultural event is forcing others to take notice.

Currently, permanent partnerships are allowed under the law, though gay couples can only be in registered partnerships that dont enjoy the same benefits, such as tax savings, as do marriages. As the matter winds through the courts, it has deeply split Germanys pro-business and center-right ruling coalition.

The classically liberal Free Democratic Party which has many prominent gay members, including Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has pushed hard for gays full equality. But the more socially conservative Christian Democratic Union and its sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union, havent been so enthusiastic.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat, has been particularly reticent, saying in August that it would be good at this point to wait for the court's decision, on the tax issue.

Some gay rights activists believe more visibility may be key to changing the political climate in their favor. While the issue isnt as polarizing as in the United States, religious and social conservatives, particularly in Bavaria, have expressed alarm at German proposals to make gay marriage legal, as it already is in eight European countries. …

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