More MS news articles for Aug 2001

A wedding in Berlin for two beaming brides

As German same-sex couples enjoy a new federal law, Britain becomes increasingly isolated in a Europe of gay marriages,4273,4232258,00.html

Thursday August 2, 2001
Kate Connolly in Berlin

"Ladies and Gentleman, the bride ... and bride," the register office official said as the happy couple emerged, to resounding applause, from exchanging their vows.

Gudrun Pannier and Angelika Baldow, dressed in matching tuxedos, beamed as they dug a knife into a three-tiered cake topped with the marzipan figures of two brides.

The guests and gay rights activists gathered outside the of Schöneberg district town hall in Berlin yesterday morning were outnumbered by journalists eager to witness Germany's first gay marriage ceremony.

The gay marriage law which came into force yesterday allows same-sex couples to register their partnerships and share a surname.

It puts them on the same footing as heterosexual couples in respect of health insurance, tenancy, inheritance and welfare benefits. If they wish to split up they will have to go through a divorce, and one may be obliged to pay maintenance to the other.

Thousands of couples plan to marry in the first few days of its coming into effect.

The law brings Germany more into line with half a dozen European countries which already allow gay marriage.

Its same-sex couples have not gained as much equality as couples in the Netherlands, who won the right three months ago to adopt children, and have the same taxation rights as heterosexuals.

But the law puts Germany well ahead of Britain and Italy, the biggest European countries which have yet to offer legal recognition of gay partnerships.

Gudrun and Angelika, both 36, said the law made them feel almost completely accepted by society for the first time.

"We've waited six years for the law to change,and it has finally allowed us the legal access to civil rights, so that we can be accepted as any other couple," Gudrun said.

Angelika added: "It's only the beginning, but it gives us a good platform to fight for full rights."

The couple met after Angelika advertised in a lonely hearts' column. She has multiple sclerosis, and needs a wheelchair. They live in Schöneberg, which is known as Berlin's gay capital. A plaque commemorating the gays murdered by the Third Reich stands close to the house where the British writer Christopher Isherwood lived with WH Auden in the late 1920s.

Outside the town hall activists demonstrated for a more radical law with banners saying: "All or nothing".

In Munich, the capital of Bavaria, gays demonstrated in front of the town hall against the state's attempts to block the law. Bavaria and the eastern state of Saxony have so far been unsuccessful in their attempts to persuade the federal constitutional court to rule against it.

But as the law went into effect it did not escape fierce criticism from some conservatives, who said gay partnerships undermined traditional family values.

"This is constitutionally highly questionable," said Rupert Scholz, head of parliament's legal committee.

Sipping champagne, one of the happy mothers of the brides, Erika Pannier, 75, hailed her daughter's marriage as a groundbreaking day for German democracy.

"When I was young gay people had to keep their sexuality under wraps, and those who were discovered were persecuted, imprisoned and even sent to their death by the Nazis," she said. "It's taken a long time to get where we are today, but we've finally arrived."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001