German lawmakers voted to legalize same-sex marriage today, just days after Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a conscience vote on the issue.
The measure, which passed by 393 votes to 226 (with four abstentions), will allow same-sex couples to marry, adopt children, and receive all the benefits due to heterosexual married couples. It will go to the Bundesrat, parliament's upper house, next week where it is expected to pass easily, and then will be signed into law.
Merkel, who said earlier in the week that she had been moved by the plight of a lesbian couple who adopted eight children, revealed she voted against the measure—but added it was still important to bring it to a open vote.
"For me and the basic law, it's about the marriage of a woman and a man. That's why I voted against it," she said. "I hope that the vote today shows not only the mutual respect for different opinions but that this also leads to more peace and social cohesion as well."
Whether Merkel's vote was truly based on personal beliefs, or a calculated attempt to appease conservatives, we'll probably never know: It’s estimated Germany has the largest gay population in Europe, and polling indicates more than 80% of the country supports same-sex marriage, but Bavaria, a key political region, has always been a holdout.
Last week, the Federal Constitutional Court denied a petition by the Greens to forcing a vote on several marriage bills before the end of the regular session today.
But parliamentary elections will be held in September, and the SPD and Greens have both made marriage equality a prerequisite for participation in any coalition. That, more than anything, likely fueled Merkel’s sudden turnaround.
Martin Schulz, leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) tweeted that he was "happy for all the married couples to-be."
Germany enacted civil partnerships in 2001, which offered many though not all, the benefits of marriage. It becomes the 23rd country to codify equal marriage.