Role Model US, Coward Germany

The U.S. legalized same-sex marriage, a historic blow which should shame other Western countries — above all Germany, which stalls and makes excuses.

It is easy to get upset at the Americans. The NSA, drones, torture, Guantanamo, racism, police brutality, poverty: The list is as long as it is justified, the outrage moot. This is especially true in Germany, where one gladly feels bound in well-tended love-hate with the U.S. Criticize, grumble, find fault — and then travel there. New York, New York!

Apropos: In New York, tourists will be able to marvel again at a very special attraction on Sunday. Thousands of gay, lesbian and transgender people will march down Fifth Avenue there in the gay pride parade. Its recent shameless commercialization, however, gives way this time to true joy: For the first time in a long time, there is really something to celebrate.

The nationwide legalization of gay marriage is a historic blow. It ends decades-long discrimination in one of the most iron-clad U.S. civil rights. It realizes America’s highest constitutional right, that otherwise so quickly shrinks to a buzzword: “All men are created equal.” It is the purest expression of the otherwise run-down American dream of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Even more, with its leading decision, the Supreme Court of the United States set the bar worldwide and became an example, not only through its rhetorical eloquence, to put many other countries to shame — above all Germany, which just cannot bring itself to take such a step, but instead stalls, bluffs and makes excuses.

“Congrats America!” Green party leader Volker Beck tweeted after the U.S. decision. “Now it is Germany’s turn, dear CDU/CSU/SPD!”

However, Germany, the self-appointed conscience of the world, flounders in a net of prejudice, ignorance and bureaucracy. “I have the hope and expectation that we in Germany will also achieve complete equality between civil union and marriage,” wrote Cristoph Strässer, the human rights commissioner of the federal government on Saturday. Hope, expectation — reality?

The stilted word choice shows how difficult this topic of human interest remains in the Berliner bureaucrat republic. Chancellor Angela Merkel plays the coquettish, reluctant bridesmaid to keep her tradition-keepers happy. For example, CDU representative Helmut Brandt, who understands marriage purely as a vehicle for procreation. Or Saarland’s prime minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who warns against bigamy and incest, an obvious natural consequence of gay marriage.

It Is About More than Marriage

Backwater, there are more dangerous points of view. Such contempt for same-sex love is not better than the false piety of the American right, who demonizes the Supreme Court decision as a threat to their “freedom of religion” — a sanctimonious code word for hate. Freedom is not freedom when it denies others freedom.

It is, then, about much more than just the right to marry. It is about finally fully accepting gay people into society. For too long they had to hide themselves, be afraid, change or deny themselves, with the tacit approval of the state. The long path of the German LGBT movement is also paved with victims.

Instead of that, it is “discussed” further in panels and argued about in committees, while gay and lesbian Germans remain second-class citizens, in spite of an overwhelming majority in the surveys who speak for equal rights, in spite of open letters from famous people, in spite of the common sense which the Germans otherwise pride themselves on.

In the U.S., public opinion led the way. It went back and forth for a long time. Referendums granted LGBT rights and then took them away again; legislatures sometimes voted for gay marriage and sometimes against; courts decided in one direction, and then more and more in the other. Now the highest court has spoken the command; there is no going back.

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