German parliament backs same-sex marriage
German legislators have voted to legalise same-sex marriage after a short but emotional debate, bringing the country in line with many of its Western peers.
Chancellor Angela Merkel voted against the measure, but she paved the way for its passage by freeing other members of her party to vote with their conscience.
Legislators voted 393 for legalising "marriage for everybody" and 226 against, with four abstentions.
Mrs Merkel said on Monday that MPs could take up the issue as a "question of conscience", allowing members of her conservative coalition, which has opposed same-sex marriage, to vote individually for it.
That prompted her centre-left rivals to quickly call for a snap vote, adding it to Friday's agenda in parliament's last regular session before elections on September 24.
While some in Mrs Merkel's conservative bloc spoke against the measure, Berlin Christian Democrat Jan-Marco Luczak urged his fellow party members to back it.
"It would be absurd to try and protect marriage by preventing people to marry," he said.
Many applauded Mrs Merkel's move that opened the way for the vote, but Social Democrat Johannes Kahrs noted in the debate that the chancellor had been a long-time opponent of gay marriage.
"Many thanks for nothing," he said bluntly.
Germany has allowed same-sex couples to enter civil partnerships since 2001, but has not granted them full marital rights, which include the possibility to jointly adopt children.
The new law will not take effect for several months because it needs to pass the upper house of parliament and be approved by the president, although those are formalities. It is also expected to face legal challenges.
Mrs Merkel told reporters after the ballot that her vote against the measure was based on her reading of the country's law concerning marriage and that she did think gay couples should be able to adopt.
Germany's basic law is vague, saying only that "marriage and the family shall enjoy the protection of the state", but Mrs Merkel said that for her "marriage as defined by the law is the marriage of a man and a woman".
She added, however, that she stood by her contention that the interpretation was a "question of conscience" and urged all views to be respected.
"It was a long, intensive, and for many, also emotional discussion - that goes for me personally, too - and I'm hopeful not only that there will be respect for either side's opinions, but that it will also bring about more peace and cohesion in society," she said.
All Mrs Merkel's potential coalition partners after the September election, including the centre-left Social Democrats of her challenger Martin Schulz, have been calling for same-sex marriage to be legalised.
It is not clear whether Mrs Merkel thought her comments on Monday would prompt such a quick vote, but many analysts have suggested that by opening the door to gay marriage the chancellor removed another issue that might have helped her opponents in their campaigns against her.
In nearly 12 years as chancellor, she has moved her party to the centre and away from conservative orthodoxy, speeding up Germany's exit from nuclear power and ending military conscription, among other moves.