LGBT rights in Germany
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Germany have evolved significantly over the course of the last decades. During the 1920s and early 1930s, lesbian and gay people in Berlin were generally tolerated by society and many bars and clubs specifically pertaining to gay men were opened. Although same-sex sexual activity between men was already made illegal under Paragraph 175 by the German Empire in 1871, Nazi Germany extended these laws during World War II, which resulted in the persecution and deaths of thousands of homosexual citizens. The Nazi extensions were repealed in 1950 and same-sex sexual activity between men was decriminalised in both East and West Germany in 1968 and 1969, respectively. The age of consent was equalized in unified Germany in 1994.
|Status||Legal since 1968 (East Germany) and 1969 (West Germany)|
Age of consent equalised and full legalisation in 1994
|Gender identity||Transgender persons allowed to change legal gender without required sterilisation and surgery|
|Military||LGBT people allowed to serve|
|Discrimination protections||Sexual orientation and gender identity protection nationwide; some protections vary by region (see below)|
|Recognition of relationships||Same-sex marriage since 2017|
|Adoption||Full adoption rights since 2017|
Same-sex marriage has been legal since 1 October 2017, after the Bundestag passed legislation giving same-sex couples full marital and adoption rights on 30 June 2017. Prior to that, registered partnerships were available to same-sex couples, having been legalised in 2001. These partnerships provided most though not all of the same rights as marriages, and they ceased to be available after the introduction of same-sex marriage. Same-sex stepchild adoption first became legal in 2005 and was expanded in 2013 to allow someone in a same-sex relationship to adopt a child already adopted by their partner. Discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity vary across Germany, but discrimination in employment and the provision of goods and services is banned countrywide. Transgender people have been allowed to change their legal gender since 1980. The law initially required them to undergo surgical alteration of their genitals in order to have key identity documents changed. This has since been declared unconstitutional.
Despite two of the three main political parties in the German Government being socially conservative on the issues of LGBT rights, Germany has frequently been seen as one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world. Recent polls have indicated that a large majority of Germans support same-sex marriage. Another poll in 2013 indicated that 87% of Germans believed that homosexuality should be accepted by society, which was the second highest score in the world (only 39 countries were polled) following Spain (88%). Berlin has been referred to by publications as one of the most gay friendly cities in the world. The former Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, is one of the most famous openly gay men in Germany, next to the former Mayor of Hamburg, Ole von Beust, the Federal Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, the deceased former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Guido Westerwelle, the former Federal Ministry of the Environment, Barbara Hendricks, comedians Hape Kerkeling, and Hella von Sinnen, or political journalist Anne Will. Founded in 1981, the Akademie Waldschlösschen, an adult education conference center near Göttingen, has developed into a national networking hub for LGBTI teachers, lawyers, clergy, gay fathers and gay and lesbian student groups at German universities, many in cooperation with TransAktiv and Intersexuelle Menschen e.V..
History of laws regarding same-sex sexual activity
Homosexuality was punishable by death in the Holy Roman Empire from 1532 until its dissolution and in Prussia from 1620 to 1794. The influence of the Napoleonic Code in the early 1800s sparked decriminalisations in much of Germany outside of Prussia. However, in 1871, the year the federal German Empire was formed, Paragraph 175 of the new Penal Code recriminalised homosexual acts. The law was extended under Nazi rule, and convictions multiplied by a factor of ten to about 8,000 per year. Penalties were severe, and 5,000–15,000 suspected offenders were interned in concentration camps, where most of them died.
The Nazi additions were repealed in East Germany in 1950, but homosexual relations between men remained a crime until 1968. West Germany kept the more repressive version of the law, legalising male homosexual activity one year after East Germany, in 1969. The age of consent was equalized in East Germany through a 1987 court ruling, with West Germany following suit in 1989; it is now 14 years (16/18 in some circumstances) for female-female, male-male and female-male activity.
East Germany (1949–1990)
East Germany inherited Paragraph 175. Communist gay activist Rudolf Klimmer, modelling himself on Magnus Hirschfeld and his Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, campaigned in 1954 to have the law repealed, but was unsuccessful. His work prevented any further convictions for homosexuality after 1957.
In the five years following the Uprising of 1953 in East Germany, the GDR Government instituted a program of "moral reform" to build a solid foundation for the new socialist republic, in which masculinity and the traditional family were championed, while homosexuality, seen to contravene "healthy mores of the working people", continued to be prosecuted under Paragraph 175. Same sex activity was "alternatively viewed as a remnant of bourgeois decadence, a sign of moral weakness, and a threat to the social and political health of the nation".
According to historian Heidi Minning, attempts by lesbians and gay activists in East Germany to establish a visible community were "thwarted at every turn by the GDR Government and the SED party". Minning wrote: Police force was used on numerous occasions to break up or prevent public gay and lesbian events. Centralised censorship prevented the presentation of homosexuality in print and electronic media, as well as the import of such materials.
The Protestant Church provided more support than the state, allowing meeting spaces and printing facilities.
Towards the end of the 1980s, just before the collapse of the iron curtain, the East German Government opened a state-owned gay disco in Berlin. On 11 August 1987, the East German Supreme Court affirmed that "homosexuality, just like heterosexuality, represents a variant of sexual behavior. Homosexual people do therefore not stand outside socialist society, and the civil rights are warranted to them exactly as to all other citizens".
In 1988, the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden commissioned the state-owned film studio, DEFA, to make the documentary film Die andere Liebe (The Other Love). It was the first DEFA film about homosexuality and its aim was to convey official state acceptance. In 1989, the German Hygiene Museum also commissioned DEFA to make the GDR's only HIV/AIDS prevention documentary, Liebe ohne Angst (Love Without Fear). This did not focus on homosexuality directly but pointed out that AIDS was not a "gay disease".
In 1989, DEFA produced the film Coming Out, directed by Heiner Carow, telling the story of an East German man coming to accept his homosexuality, with much of it shot in East Berlin gay bars. It was the only East German feature film on the theme of same-sex desire ever produced. It won a number of awards including a Silver Bear and Teddy Award at 40th Berlin International Film Festival, and awards at the National Feature Film Festival of the GDR.
Jürgen Lemke is considered one of the most prominent East German gay rights activists and has published a book on the subject (Gay Voices from East Germany, English edition published in 1991). Lemke claimed that the gay community was far more united in the GDR than it was in the West.
West Germany (1949–1990)
West Germany inherited Paragraph 175, which remained on the books until 1969. However, as opposed to East Germany, the churches' influence in West Germany was very strong. Fundamentalist Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church were staunchly opposed to LGBT rights legislation.
As a result of these strong socially conservative influences, the German Christian Democratic Union, the dominant political force in post-war West Germany, tended to ignore or oppose most gay rights issues. While their frequent coalition partners, the Free Democratic Party tended to have a stronger belief in civil liberties, they were, as a smaller party, less likely to alienate the more socially conservative elements in the larger Christian Democratic Union.
During the Cold War era, support for gay rights in Germany was generally restricted to the Free Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party and, later in the 1980s, the Green Party. At the national level, advancements in gay rights did not begin to happen until the end of the Cold War and the electoral success of the Social Democratic Party. For example, in 1990, the law was changed so that homosexuality and bisexuality were no longer grounds for being discriminated against in the military.
In 1986, the popular soap opera Lindenstraße showed the first gay kiss on German TV. From then on, many other television shows followed this example. The creation of private TV stations in 1984 resulted in a stronger LGBT presence in the media by the end of the decade. The station RTL in particular was very gay-friendly and some TV stars had come out by then.
Annulment of convictions
In May 2016, Justice Minister Heiko Maas announced that gay and bisexual men who were convicted of same-sex sexual activity after World War II would have their convictions overturned. Maas said the following in a statement:
We will never be able to eliminate completely these outrages by the state, but we want to rehabilitate the victims. The homosexual men who were convicted should no longer have to live with the taint of conviction.
In October 2016, the German Government announced the introduction of a draft law to pardon around 50,000 men for the prosecutions they endured due to their sexual orientation. On 22 March 2017, the Germany Cabinet officially approved the bill. The bill, which also foresees compensation of €3,000 (£2,600) for each conviction, plus €1,500 (£1,300) for every year of jail time, then had to obtain parliamentary approval. On 22 June 2017, the Bundestag (German Parliament) unanimously passed the bill to implement the scheme to rehabilitate gay and bisexual men. The bill then went back to the Bundesrat for final approval, and was signed into law by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on 17 July 2017.
Recognition of same-sex relationships
Same-sex couples have been legally recognized in Germany since 2001. That year, registered life partnerships (effectively, a form of civil union) were instituted, giving same-sex couples rights and obligations in areas such as inheritance, alimony, health insurance, immigration, hospital, jail visitations, and name change. Subsequently, the Constitutional Court repeatedly ruled in favor of same-sex couples in registered partnerships, requiring the Bundestag to make incremental changes to the partnership law. In one case, the European Court of Justice ruled that refusing a widow's pension to the same-sex partner of a deceased person is direct discrimination if the partnership was comparable to marriage (see also "same-sex unions in the European Union").
Even though a majority of the political parties in the Bundestag supported legalising same-sex marriage, attempts to follow through with the proposal were repeatedly blocked by CDU/CSU, the largest parliamentary party and the dominant party in the government coalitions since 2005. This changed on the final sitting day of the Bundestag before the 2017 summer break, when the junior party in the coalition, the Social Democratic Party, brought on a bill to legalise same-sex marriage and adoption which had previously passed the Bundesrat in September 2015. German Chancellor Merkel moderated her stance on the issue by allowing members of the CDU/CSU to follow their personal conscience rather than the party line, which freed up moderate members who had long been in favour of same-sex marriage to vote for it. On 30 June 2017, the SPD, Die Linke and the Greens as well as 75 moderate members of the CDU/CSU formed a majority in the Bundestag to pass the bill by 393 votes to 226. The law came into effect three months after promulgation, on 1 October 2017.
The first same-sex weddings in Germany were celebrated on 1 October 2017. Berlin couple Karl Kreile and Bodo Mende, a couple for 38 years, were the first same-sex couple to exchange their vows under the new law and did so at the town hall of Schöneberg, Berlin.
Adoption and parenting
In 2004, the registered partnership law (originally passed in 2001) was amended, effective on 1 January 2005, to give registered same-sex couples limited adoption rights (stepchild adoption only) and reform previously cumbersome dissolution procedures with regard to division of property and alimony. In 2013, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that if one partner in a same-sex relationship has adopted a child, the other partner has the right to become the adoptive mother or father of that child as well; this is known as "successive adoption". The same-sex marriage law, passed in June 2017, gave same-sex couples full adoption rights. On 10 October 2017, a court in Berlin's Kreuzberg district approved the first application for joint adoption of a child by a same-sex couple.
There is no legal right to assisted reproduction procedures for lesbian couples, such as artificial insemination and in vitro fertilisation, but such practices are not explicitly banned either. The German Medical Association is against explicit legalisation and directs its members not to perform such procedures. Since this directive is not legally binding, however, sperm banks and doctors may work with lesbian clients if they wish. This makes it harder for German lesbian couples to have children than in some other countries, but it is becoming increasingly popular. In addition, lesbian parents are not both automatically recognized on their child(ren)'s birth certificates, as one of the partners has to adopt the child(ren) of the other partner, whether biological or adopted. A bill initiated by Alliance 90/The Greens in June 2018 to rectify this inequality is pending in the Bundestag. In October 2018, the Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof) in Karlsruhe ruled that, unlike heterosexual couples, the wife of the child's legal mother does not automatically become a parent, and that an adoption is necessary. This specific case involved a lesbian couple from Saxony, who had converted their civil partnership in mid-October 2017 into a marriage. At the beginning of November, their child was born via artificial insemination. When trying to record the birth, only the biological mother was allowed to register. The couple then unsuccessfully applied to the registry office to correct the birth record so that the non-biological mother could also be listed as the child's mother. The office rejected this request, whereupon the woman filed suit. A district court in Chemnitz initially ruled for the couple, but the Dresden Higher Regional Court overturned this decision in April 2018. Eventually, after another appeal, the Federal Court of Justice ruled against them. In its judgment, the Court referenced Paragraph 1592 of the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, which states that "the father of a child is the man who at the moment of birth is married to the child's mother".
In May 2019, Federal Minister of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth Franziska Giffey recommended that teachers use forms that are gender-neutral; which no longer use "mother and father" but instead "parent 1 and parent 2".
LGBT people are not banned from military service.
The Bundeswehr maintained a "glass ceiling" policy that effectively banned homosexuals from becoming officers until 2000. First Lieutenant Winfried Stecher, an army officer demoted for his homosexuality, had filed a lawsuit against former Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping. Scharping vowed to fight the claim in court, claiming that homosexuality "raises serious doubts about suitability and excludes employment in all functions pertaining to leadership". However, before the case went to trial, the Defense Ministry reversed the policy. While the German Government declined to issue an official explanation for the reversal, it was widely believed that Scharping was overruled by former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and former Vice-Chancellor Joschka Fischer. Nowadays, according to general military orders given in the year 2000, tolerance towards all sexual orientations is considered to be part of the duty of military personnel. Sexual relationships and acts amongst soldiers outside service times, regardless of the sexual orientation, are defined to be "irrelevant", regardless of the rank and function of the soldier(s) involved, while harassment or the abuse of functions is considered a transgression, as well as the performance of sexual acts in active service. Transgender persons may also serve openly in the German Armed Forces.
In the fields of employment, goods and services, education and health services, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal throughout Germany.
Some state constitutions have anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity, including the constitutions of Berlin (since 1995), Brandenburg (since 1992), Bremen (since 2001), Saarland (since 2011) and Thuringia (since 1993), and Saxony-Anhalt in the public sector since 1997. Article 10(2) of the Berlin Constitution reads as follows:
|“||No one may be prejudiced or favoured because of sex, birth, race, language, national or social origin, faith, religious or political opinions or sexual orientation.||”|
As a signatory to the Treaty of Amsterdam, Germany was required to amend its national anti-discrimination laws to include, among others, sexual orientation. It failed to do so for six years, due to discussions about the scope of the proposed laws. Some of the proposals were debated because they actually surpassed the requirements of the Treaty of Amsterdam (namely, extending discrimination protection for all grounds of discrimination to the provision of goods and services); the final version of the law, however, was criticised as not fully complying with some parts of the Treaty, especially with respect to the specifications about the termination of work contracts through labor courts. The Bundestag finally passed the General Act on Equal Treatment (German: Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz) on 29 June 2006; the Bundesrat voted on it without discussion on 7 July 2006. Having come into force on 18 August 2006, the law bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, education, health services and the provision of goods and services.
Basic Law amendment
In 1994, although a majority in the Joint Constitutional Commission of the Bundestag and Bundesrat voted in favor of the inclusion of a prohibition on discrimination based on sexual identity in the Basic Law (German: Grundgesetz), the required two-thirds majority was not achieved.
In June 2018, the states of Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Thuringia submitted a draft bill to the Bundesrat to amend article 3 of the Basic Law to add the characteristics "sexual and gender identity". In July, the draft proposal failed after the state of Berlin requested that it be rejected, as it became clear that the two-thirds majority would not be achieved.
In May 2019, the Alliance 90/The Greens, the Free Democratic Party and the Left proposed a joint legislative initiative to amend Article 3 of the Basic Law to ban discrimination on grounds of "sexual identity" (German: sexuelle Identität).
Gender identity and expression
Since 1980, the Gesetz über die Änderung der Vornamen und die Feststellung der Geschlechtszugehörigkeit in besonderen Fällen has stated that transgender persons may change their legal sex following sex reassignment surgery and sterilization. In January 2011, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that these two requirements were unconstitutional.
Since 2013, German law has allowed children born with atypical sexual anatomy to have their gender left blank instead of being categorised as male (männlich) or female (weiblich). The Swiss activist group Zwischengeschlecht criticised this law, arguing that "if a child’s anatomy does not, in the view of physicians, conform to the category of male or the category of female, there is no option but to withhold the male or female labels given to all other children". The German Ethics Council and the Swiss National Advisory Commission also criticised the law, saying that "instead of individuals deciding for themselves at maturity, decisions concerning sex assignment are made in infancy by physicians and parents".
In November 2017, the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) ruled that civil status law must allow a third gender option. This means that intersex people will have another option besides being listed as female or male or having a blank gender entry. The Government presented its proposal on the matter in August 2018. Intersex individuals would be able to register themselves as "divers" on official documents. The proposal was approved by the Bundestag in December 2018, and took effect on 1 January 2019.
Conversion therapy has a negative effect on the lives of LGBT people, and can lead to low self-esteem, depression and suicide ideation. It is opposed by every medical organisation in Germany.
In 2008, the German Government declared itself completely opposed to the pseudoscientific practice. In 2013, the Alliance 90/The Greens introduced a draft bill to the Bundestag to ban conversion therapies among minors in the Bundestag, but it was never voted on. A petition to call on the Health Ministry to ban the practice was launched in July 2018, and had collected about 60,000 signatures by mid-August 2018.
In February 2019, openly gay German Health Minister Jens Spahn stated that he wants gay conversion therapy for both minors and adults to be made illegal, calling it "a form of assault". Spahn said he hopes to work together with Justice Minister Katarina Barley for a law to ban conversion therapy, that he hoped would be approved by the autumn of 2019. In April 2019, after an online petition on the issue started by international LGBT organisation All Out collected around 110,000 signatures, Spahn called for a commission to draft proposals on how exactly such a ban can be introduced. The panel would then present its final report in autumn. The commission met in May and June for two full-day workshops. Likewise, the Ministry of Health invited politicians, scientists and those affected, as well as institutions from abroad, who have already gained experience with legal prohibitions, to participate in the exchange. In June, Spahn presented in a press conference the results of two scientific reports that denounced conversion therapy, and called for a legal ban. In early November 2019, Spahn submitted a draft bill that would ban the use of conversion therapy on minors and punish those coercing, deceiving and threatening someone of any age into the practice.
Parallel to Spahn's proposal, there is also an initiative of several federal states for a ban on conversion therapy. The states of Hesse, Berlin, Bremen, Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein have tabled a joint motion in the Bundesrat, which was presented in plenary on 12 April 2019. The states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia have agreed to the motion, while Bavaria expressed potential support, but with some modifications, after a resolution from the Greens was adopted by a majority in the Landtag of Bavaria. The motion was to be voted on in plenary in the Bundesrat in May, but was later postponed. Alongside legislative action in the Bundesrat, in March 2019, a bill to ban conversion therapies for minors and a motion with numerous measures to educate and support victims of such practices was presented by the Green parliamentary group in the Bundestag.
Bone marrow donation has been allowed since December 2014.
In June 2016, German health ministers announced that the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood would be lifted, replacing it with a one-year deferral period. The proposal to lift the ban was championed by Monika Bachmann, Saarland's Health Minister. Since summer 2017, gay and bisexual men have been allowed to donate blood, provided they haven't had sex for twelve months.
Openly gay and lesbian politicians
There are several prominent German politicians who are openly gay. Among them are former Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit (having outed himself with the famous words "Ich bin schwul – und das ist auch gut so!" [English: "I am gay – and that's a good thing!"]) and Johannes Kahrs (from the SPD); Volker Beck, Kai Gehring, Ulle Schauws, Gerhard Schick and Anja Hajduk (from the Green Party); Harald Petzold (The Left); Jens Spahn and Stefan Kaufmann (both CDU); Bernd Fabritius (from the CSU); Michael Kauch and Guido Westerwelle, respectively former federal Foreign Minister and former head of the Free Democratic Party (FDP). In addition, former Hamburg Mayor Ole von Beust (CDU) did not deny anything when his father outed him but considered it a private matter; after leaving office he began talking about his homosexuality. In July 2007, Karin Wolff, then Minister of Education for Hesse, came out as a lesbian. In December 2013, Barbara Hendricks (SPD), the Federal Minister for the Environment in the Third Merkel Cabinet, came out as lesbian. In 2012, Michael Ebling (SPD) became the Mayor of Mainz. In 2013 and 2015, Sven Gerich (SPD) and Thomas Kufen (CDU) became the openly gay mayors of Wiesbaden and Essen, respectively.
Positions of political parties
The right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD) is opposed to full LGBT rights and opposes same-sex marriage, but is in favour of registered partnerships. The Christian-conservative parties, the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU), support basic rights such as registered partnerships and some of its members support same-sex marriages. All other major parties, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), The Left (Die Linke), Alliance '90/The Greens (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) support LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage.
A May 2019 study revealed that 6.9% of the population of Germany identified as LGBTI. The study also showed that 10.6% of the population of Cologne between the ages of 18 and 75 described themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer. This accounted to over 87,000 people in the city.
A 2013 Pew Research Center poll indicated that 87% of Germans believed that homosexuality should be accepted by society, which was the second highest in the world (only 39 countries were polled) following Spain (88%).
Nevertheless, 46% of 20,000 German LGBT people said they had experienced discrimination because of their sexual orientation and gender identity in the past year per the 2013 results of a survey by EU's Fundamental Rights Agency (47% was the EU average). Two-thirds of respondents said they concealed their sexual orientation at school and in public life and a fifth felt discriminated at work.
In May 2015, PlanetRomeo, an LGBT social network, published its first Gay Happiness Index (GHI). Gay men from over 120 countries were asked about how they feel about society’s view on homosexuality, how they experience the way they are treated by other people and how satisfied are they with their lives. Germany was ranked 14th with a GHI score of 68.
A 2017 poll found that 83% of Germans supported same-sex marriage, 16% were against. For comparison, the 2015 Eurobarometer found that 66% of Germans thought that same-sex marriage should be allowed throughout Europe, 29% were against.
|Same-sex sexual activity legal|
|Equal age of consent|
|Anti-discrimination laws in employment|
|Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services|
|Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech)|
|Anti-discrimination laws concerning gender identity|
|Recognition of same-sex couples (e.g. unregistered cohabitation, life partnership)|
|Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples|
|Stepchild adoption of an adopted child|
|Joint adoption by same-sex couples|
|Automatic parenthood on birth certificates for children of same-sex couples|
|LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military|
|Right to change legal gender|
|Third gender option|
|Access to IVF for lesbian couples|
|Conversion therapy banned by law|
|Homosexuality declassified as an illness|
|Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples|
|MSMs allowed to donate blood|
(*) Some states have their own anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity.
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Berlin. It may have taken 75 years, but the German capital once again enjoys the kind of open gay scene that Christopher Isherwood described so evocatively in his 1939 memoir Goodbye to Berlin. Perhaps the painful period of Nazi rule and division makes the city even more attractive to people with alternative lifestyles - you have to be unconventional to want to live here. The magnificently restored 19th-century buildings, the grand boulevards and the famous park and woodlands make the perfect backdrop for queer culture. A former mayor of Berlin is gay, the Kit Kat club still exists, and Europe's first exclusively gay old people's home - the Asta Nielsen Haus - opened in the city this year.
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