Germany extends gay rights

2004-10-29 20:45

Berlin - The German parliament voted on Friday to extend more rights to gay couples, three years after first recognizing same-sex partnerships, but stopped short of granting them full marital status.

The law will allow couples to refuse to testify against each other in court, ensure a state pension for widows and widowers and more controversially, allow homosexuals to adopt the biological children of their partners.

This plank met with fierce resistance by conservative parties, which argued that the move was not in children's interest.

But the bill passed the Bundestag lower house of parliament easily with the support of the ruling Social Democrats and the Greens, supported by votes from the liberal Free Democrats.

"Same-sex partnerships are a reality in Germany," Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries said before the chamber.

"But gays and lesbians are still not treated equally in how they are able to live their lives, and there is no reason for that."

The law does not require the approval of the Bundesrat upper house and will go into effect January 1.

Zypries said the ruling centre-left coalition was drafting new legislation to allow gay couples the tax benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples. But such a move would require the green light of the Bundesrat, where the conservative opposition has a majority.

Under legislation passed in 2001 and approved by the country's top court in 2002, gay and lesbians won a decades-long battle to have their partnerships registered and gain many of the rights and responsibilities of marriage.

They may take each other's names, must support each other financially, and may divorce and demand alimony.

An estimated 5 000 homosexual "civil unions" have been registered since 2001. About 8 000 children are being raised by same-sex couples.