German MEP calls for an end to gay rights disparities

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Series Details Vol.11, No.32, 15.09.05
Publication Date 15/09/2005
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By Martin Banks

Date: 15/09/05

Although caught in a controversy over the right of same-sex couples to adopt children, Belgium is being praised as an El Dorado for gay rights.

A German Socialist MEP, who married her lesbian partner in Brussels on Saturday (10 September), has voiced her frustration about the lack of rights for same-sex couples in Germany. Lissy Gröner said: "I hope that it will not be too long before we can have our marriage recognised in Germany with the same rights as we enjoy here in Belgium."

Gröner, aged 51, married her 37-year-old partner and compatriot Sabine Gillessen in Brussels City Hall on the Grand Place. The city's mayor, Freddy Thielemans, a friend and a former MEP, presided over the ceremony and Austrian Socialist MEP Christa Prets was a witness.

Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Laurette Onkelinx was among the 35 guests.

Gröner, an MEP since 1989, said: "It was a wonderful occasion and I cannot think of a better or more romantic venue to get married."

Same-sex marriage is legal in Belgium, but not in Germany where homosexuals can only have registered partnerships, permitted by a 2001 law. Germany's powerful conservative lobby has opposed the extension of marriage laws to homosexuals.

Gröner and Gillessen have known each other for more than ten years and have lived together for the last two.

Gröner, a member of the women's rights and gender equality committee, was back at work at the Parliament this week.

She will be campaigning in Germany in the run-up to the country's election on 18 September. The couple then plan to stay in Germany for a short honeymoon.

Gröner said she was disappointed she was unable to tie the knot in North Bavaria, where she comes from.

In Belgium, where gay marriages were allowed in 2003, homosexual couples receive almost the same rights as heterosexuals.

Most notably, married gay men and women have inheritance rights to the goods and property of their deceased partner. In the past, these were conferred on the parents of a gay couple.

"In Belgium, as a same-sex couple, we will not experience any discrimination. Sadly, that is not the case elsewhere in Europe and that has to change," said Gröner.

She believes the laws on adoption and taxation should be the same for gay couples as they are for heterosexual married couples.

"Mentalities have changed and there is no longer any valid reason not to allow open marriage to people of the same sex - and grant them the same rights as anyone else.

Gröner has two grown-up children from a previous marriage which ended in divorce in 2001. It is Gillessen's first marriage.

She and Gillessen, who runs her own consultancy in Brussels, first met at a political meeting on the fight against cancer. Gröner said she was saddened by the "negative" reaction of some acquaintances when she and Gillessen announced their decision to live together.

"Their attitude towards me changed somewhat," she recalls. "They clearly had some difficulty accepting it."

But the reaction from family and close friends had been "very positive", said Gröner, adding that she had also received "lots of messages of congratulations" from people in her German constituency.

The MEP believes the current "inconsistencies" in the rights afforded to same-sex couples in Europe should be addressed.

In several countries, the status of 'registered partnership' has been established for some time.

In 1989, Denmark became the first country to grant registered same-sex partners the same rights as married couples. Church weddings are not allowed.

Norway, Sweden and Iceland introduced similar laws in 1996 and Finland in 2002.

The Netherlands became the first country to offer full civil marriage rights to gay couples in 2001. This June, Spanish MPs voted in favour of allowing gay couples to marry and adopt children.

In 1999, France introduced a 'civil contract', which gives some rights to co-habiting couples, regardless of sex, but these do not include rights over taxes and adoption. Luxembourg introduced a similar law on civil partnerships last year.

In the UK, laws that come into force at the end of this year will give same-sex couples in registered partnerships similar rights to married couples in areas such as housing and social security.

Article features comments of German Socialist MEP Lissy Gröner, who married her lesbian partner in Brussels on 10 September 2005 and compares the legal situation for same-sex couples across Europe.

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