Living Together

Not exactly equal: civil partnerships in Germany

Nicht in allen Bereichen konnte durch das Gesetz eine Gleichstellung erzielt werden.  Foto: Robert Dodge © iStockphotoSupporters of civil partnerships were not able to achieve equality in all areas.  Photo: Robert Dodge © iStockphotoGermany's Civil Partnership Act (LPartG) came into effect on August 1, 2001. The decision was preceded by a long battle for legal recognition of same-sex partnerships.

Due to a series of blockades in the Bundesrat, Germany's upper house of parliament, supporters of civil partnerships were not able to achieve equality in all areas. Compared to traditional “marriages”, same-sex couples have indeed made progress toward parity since the law was introduced, but it was an arduous path and still not all hurdles have been overcome. The now numerous judgments in favor of so-called “civil partners” have only been won against the backdrop of bitterly disputed political topics including pension insurance, alimony, pension rights adjustments, joint asset tax law, equality in inheritance tax and provision for dependents. In 2010, civil servants who are also civil partners were given the added benefit of family allowances.

Numbers are on the rise

The number of people who feel the need to give their relationship a legal footing is definitely rising.  Photo: Ed Hid © iStockphotoThe Mikrozensus is the largest domestic survey in Europe. According to the latest data, the number of people in same-sex households grew from 38,000 in 1996 to 67,000 in 2011. “These figures should be seen as more of a lower threshold, however, because information regarding civil partner status or a civil partner is voluntary in the census,” said Roderich Egeler, President of the Federal Statistics Office at a press conference in October 2012 in Berlin.

Still, the number of people who feel the need to indicate that they are together and give their relationship a legal footing is definitely rising. The figure has doubled in the last six years alone: in 2006 it was only 19 percent (12,000), but by 2011, 40 percent (27,000) of Germany's same-sex couples registered themselves as being in a civil partnership.

Marital status relief and adoption rights

The two big differences to other countrys have to do with adoption and tax legislation.  Photo: MariaD © iStockphotTrue equality like they have in the Netherlands (since 2001), Belgium (2003), Spain (2005), Norway and Sweden (2009), Portugal (2010) and Denmark (2012), where “homosexual marriage” is legal, does not yet exist in Germany. The two big differences have to do with adoption and tax legislation. Gay and lesbian couples have the same obligations as traditional spouses, but are still treated as single by the tax authorities. The political debate has heated up, however. One side is pleading for extensions to marital status relief in same-sex partnerships while the other side, including representatives of the Catholic Church, have long been contemplating whether the Adenauer-era marital status relief laws are even still applicable or whether they should be replaced by a family-based tax scheme of some sort. This would then take into consideration the number of children in a family, like they do in France, which has the highest birthrate in all of Europe. Ultimately, one thing is clear for all parties: marital status relief is contrary to modern family politics. Single mothers or fathers and parents out of wedlock, for example, do not enjoy these tax benefits. Married couples without children, on the other hand, receive subsidies. “It is absurd that a single mother only gets on allowable deduction while same-sex couples should profit from joint income tax filing status,” is how Armin Laschet, Director at the North Rhine-Westphalia CDU, explained it to Der Spiegel, a news magazine.

According to the current life partner law, one partner can adopt the biological offspring of the other partner – a so-called stepchild adoption. In Germany, as of 2011, roughly 7,000 children live in “rainbow” families. In 9 of 10 same-sex civil partnerships, however, no children actually live in the official household (Mikrozensus 2012). In election year 2013, changes are expected from the constitutional court regarding adoption law for registered civil partners.

We asked Sevastos Sampsounis (born in 1996 in Darmstadt) four questions. He is an author, publisher (Größenwahn) and restaurateur

Sevastos Sampsounis Photo: © Sevastos SampsounisMr. Sampsounis, you have been in a civil partnership since 2005. Do you like the term?

We don't use it because we are married. Just like men and women. That is how it feels. We are here for each other. Whether I like the term “civil partners”? No, it actually bothers me. I am not in a partnership. I am married, with all of the obligations that others have, but of course without the same rights.

For example with the marital status relief benefits?

Yes. We are both in tax category 1. There is no financial benefit for me except for the fact that I was able to fund my husband's vocational training program.

Did you file an objection to your tax statement?

I didn't, perhaps because I have just accepted it, or perhaps because everyday life is difficult enough. Politics are there to represent my rights.

In other countries, Spain for example, homosexual couples are allowed to adopt children …

We would very much like to have children, but there has to be a legal foundation for it. We have to battle for every single detail and that does get rather annoying. What is normal? A man and a woman have a kid, get divorced and the child lives with one of its parents. Is that the best thing for the child? I lead a very normal civic life. The only difference is that I am homosexual. Everyone knows that with heterosexuals not everything is always “normal”. I don't want to be excluded. I want the same rights and the same responsibilities as everyone else.

Karoline Rebling
is a freelance journalist living in Frankfurt am Main.

Translation: Kevin White
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
November 2012

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