LGBT rights in Germany

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LGBT rights in Germany
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Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal since
1968 (East Germany),
1969 (West Germany)
Age of consent equalized in
1987 (East Germany),
1988 (West Germany)
Gender identity/expression -
Recognition of
Registered partnerships since 2001,
Same-sex marriage not recognised
Adoption Partner may adopt partner's child
Military service Gays and lesbians allowed to serve
Discrimination protections Sexual orientation and gender identity employment protection nationwide; other protections vary by region (see below)

Germany has been one of the most progressive European nations on the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights. The German Empire and Nazi Germany each reversed the previously tolerant policies using §175. Especially during the Weimar Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany, activists campaigned for its repeal. The laws were attenuated in 1950, repealed in practise in East Germany in 1968 and in full in a reunified Germany in 1994.

Former laws against homosexuality

There are currently no laws against same-sex sexual activity in Germany.

Male-male sexual activity was prosecuted under sodomy laws throughout Western Europe from the Middle Ages, and was made a crime nationally under Paragraph 175 in 1871, the year the federal German Empire was formed. 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The Nazi additions were repealed in East Germany in 1950, but homosexual relations between men remained a crime until 1968.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, legalizing 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.

Progression in East Germany (1949–1990)

East Germany inherited the anti-gay law Paragraph 175. Communist gay activist Rudolf Klimmer, modeling himself on Magnus Hirschfeld and his Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, campaigned to have the law repealed, but was unsuccessful. However, the law was reverted back to the version found in the 1925 criminal code, which was considerably milder than the version adopted in 1935 under Nazi rule.

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."[1]

In East Germany, Paragraph 175 ceased to be enforced in 1957 and remained on the books until 1968. According to historian Heidi Minning, attempts by lesbians and gays in East Germany to establish a visible community were "thwarted at every turn by the G.D.R. government and SED party."[2] She writes:

Police force was used on numerous occasions to break up or prevent public gay and lesbian events. Centralized censorship prevented the presentation of homosexuality in print and electronic media, as well as the import of such materials.

Ironically, the Protestant church provided more support than the state, allowing meeting spaces and printing facilities. The Protestant Church in the GDR supported fringe groups, such as gay rights groups and punks, throughout the 1980s.

Towards the end of the 1980s however, just before the collapse of the iron curtain, the East German government opened a state-owned gay disco in Berlin. On August 11, 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 1989 the German film titled "Coming Out" directed by Heiner Carow was exhibited on the night that the Berlin wall came down, and tells a story of an East German man coming to accept his own homosexuality, with much of it shot in the local gay bars. This was the only East German gay rights film.

Jürgen Lemke (often spelt "Jurgen Lemke" in the English-speaking world) 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 advocates the belief that the gay community was far more united in the GDR than it was in the West.

Progression in West Germany (1949–1990)

West Germany inherited the anti-gay law Paragraph 175. This remained on the books until 1969.

In opposite to East Germany the church's influence in West Germany was very strong. Especially the catholic church was stictly opposited to LGTB rights.

In 1986 the popular soap opera Lindenstraße showed the first gay kiss on German TV. From then on many other TV-series and -shows followed this example. Especially the implementation of private TV-stations in 1984 resultet in a situation affectet by stronger medial homosexual public at the end of the decade than ever before. Especially the station RTL was very homosexual- friendly, and some TV-stars had become openly lesbian or gay now.

Instead of that cultural progressions Helmut Kohl's christian right-wing government that leaded the country from 1982 on behaved strictly opposited to lesbian and gay rights, smiliar with Margaret Thatcher's British government. There seemed to be no chance to reach more rights for lesbians and gays. At least the oppositional left-wing green politician Volker Beck, member of Bundestag, became openly gay.

Recognition of same-sex relationships

There is legal recognition of same-sex couples. Registered life partnerships (effectively, a form of civil union) have been instituted since 2001, giving same-sex couples rights and obligations in areas such as inheritance, alimony, health insurance, immigration and name change. In 2004, this act was amended to also give registered same-sex couples adoption rights (stepchild adoption only), as well as reform previously cumbersome dissolution procedures with regard to division of property and alimony.

Later that year, the Social-Democrats (SPD) and The Greens proposed allowing same-sex marriage. Registered partnerships do not enjoy the tax benefits of marriages.

The European Court of Justice has 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.[1]

In a December 2006 poll conducted by the Angus-Reid Global Monitor, regarding social, economic, and political attitudes for member-states of the European Union; Germany ranked seventh at 52% of the population supporting same-sex marriage. 52% is higher than the European Union average of 44% supporting same-sex marriage. Also polled, with similar averages were Czech Republic tying Germany with 52% in support, and Austria with 49% in support. Under the current leadership in Germany; it is difficult to ascertain the future of this issue, even with a percentage above fifty percent in support. [2]

Military service

Gays and lesbians 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 discriminatory policy. While the German government declined to issue an official explanation for the reversal, it is 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. [3]

Discrimination protections

In the field of employment, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal throughout Germany. The country was the first in the world to include "gender identity" nationally in anti-discrimination laws.[3]

Some states have anti-discrimination laws, including the constitutions of Berlin (since 1995), Brandenburg (since 1992) and Thuringia (since 1993), and Saxony-Anhalt in the public sector since 1997. Germany is the first country in the world to include "gender identity" nationally in anti-discrimination laws. 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; the final version of the law, however, has been criticized 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.[4] The Federal Diet, or Bundestag, finally passed the Equal Treatment Act on 29 June 2006. The Bundesrat (Eng.: Federal Council) voted on it without discussion on 7 July 2006. Having come into force on 18 August 2006, the law bans discrimination in employment and certain services.

Political parties positions

Two of the three government parties, the right-wing christian parties Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union, still are opposited to homosexual's equality. The third government party, the liberal Free Democratic Party, is very homosexual-friendly and supports LGTB's equality, the openly gay Vice chancellor Guido Westerwelle is leader of this party. The three opposition parties Social Democratic Party, Alliance '90/The Greens and The Left, also are very homosexual-friendly and support LGTB's equality.

Openly homosexual politicians

As of October 2009, there are three prominent German politicians who are openly gay, namely Berlin's mayor Klaus Wowereit (from the Social Democratic Party, 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!"]), Volker Beck (from the Green Party) and Guido Westerwelle, the newly elected Foreign Minister, Vice Chancellor, and head of the liberal Free Democratic Party. In addition, Hamburg's mayor Ole von Beust (Christian Democratic Union) didn't deny anything when his father outed him but considered it private matter. In July 2007, Karin Wolff, then Minister of Education for Hesse, came out as a lesbian.[4]

Summary table

Homosexuality legal Yes (since 1968 in East Germany, 1969 in West Germany)
Equal age of consent Yes (since 1987 in East Germany, 1989 in West Germany)
Anti-discrimination laws Yes (since 2006 in employment, other laws vary by Bundesland)
Same-sex marriage(s) No
Recognition of same-sex couples as registered partnerships Yes (since 2001)
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples Yes (since 2004)
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Gay men and women allowed to serve openly in the military Yes (since 2000)
Right to change legal gender No
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also


  1. EU backs gay man's pension rights BBC News 1 April 2008 (accessed 13 July 2008)
  2. Angus Reid Global Monitor
  3. Cf. two orders of 2000: German Military Forces (Bundeswehr) (2000). Anlage B 173 zu ZDv 14/3 (German). Working Group 'Homosexuals in the Bundeswehr'. Retrieved on 24 December 2008.; and Inspector General of the German Military Forces (Bundeswehr) (2000). Führungshilfe für Vorgesetzte - Sexualität (German). Working Group 'Homosexuals in the Bundeswehr'. Retrieved on 24 December 2008.
  4. BILD-Online vom 4. Juli 2007
  • ^  (website version as of 6 November, 2006)
  • ^ Jennifer V. Evans. The moral state: Men, mining, and masculinity in the early GDR, German History, 23 (2005) 3, 355-370
  • ^ Heidi Minning. Who is the 'I' in "I love you"?: The negotiation of gay and lesbian identities in former East Berlin, Germany. Anthropology of East Europe Review, Volume 18, Number 2, Autumn 2000

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