Germany celebrated its first same-sex weddings Sunday, after a new law came into force putting gay and lesbian couples on an equal legal footing with heterosexual couples.
Town halls in Berlin, Hamburg and elsewhere opened their doors to mark the event, made possible by a surprise vote in Parliament three months earlier.
“We’re making a single exception to fire a symbolic starter pistol because same-sex marriages are possible from today,” said Gordon Holland, a registrar in Berlin’s Schoeneberg district.
Holland said it was appropriate for Schoeneberg to hold the first same-sex wedding in the country because it has long been a center of gay life in the German capital.
About 60 guests and an equal number of journalists packed into Schoeneberg town hall’s “Golden Room” to witness the marriage of Karl Kreile and his partner of 38 years, Bodo Mende.
The grooms entered the room to the popular “Wedding March” by 19th-century German composer Felix Mendelssohn, before saying their vows and signing the marriage documents to applause and cheers from the assembled guests.
Kreile, 59, said it was an “incredible honor” to be the first same-sex couple to marry in Germany, noting that he and Mende, 60, had been campaigning for gay rights for decades.
After cutting the wedding cake — featuring a rainbow flag and the words “marriage for all” — the couple planned to hold a small reception and fly to Vienna later in the week for a five-day honeymoon.
“We had a huge party 15 years ago that can’t be topped,” said Kreile, referring to the celebration after the couple registered their partnership in 2002.
Germany introduced registered partnerships in 2002, but those gave same-sex couples fewer rights than heterosexual couples who married.
Chancellor Angela Merkel long opposed same-sex marriages, only agreeing to a free vote in Parliament on the matter in June, shortly before national elections.
The bill, which enjoyed strong public support, passed by a wide margin, with 393 lawmakers voting in favor of marriage equality and 226 — including Merkel — voting against.
“This day sends a significant signal, which is that the state’s discrimination of lesbians and gays is finished,” said Joerg Steinert, who heads the Berlin branch of Germany’s lesbian and gay association. “This was long overdue in Germany and so this is a day of great joy.”
Some hurdles remain, including the fact that women can’t automatically recognize motherhood of a lesbian partner’s child, and the software used to record marriages doesn’t currently allow for two entries with the same sex.
Still, those attending Sunday’s ceremony in Schoeneberg said Germany’s decision to allow same-sex marriages — the 23rd country worldwide to do so — was a big step.
“The state has recognized that if two people want to stand by each other then that’s a marriage, regardless of their sex,” said Ulrich Kessler, a guest who has known couple for more than 20 years.
According to official figures there were about 43,000 registered partnerships in Germany in 2015, most of which are expected to be converted into marriages in the coming months.
The UK Independence Party has named its sixth leader in 18 months, and he has promptly spoken out about LGBT rights.
Former British Army officer Henry Bolton was the surprise winner of the party’s leadership contest this week, blasting past all of the frontrunners in a dramatic upset.
Unlike some of his rivals, who made the headlines with homophobic comments during the race, Mr Bolton has not publicly spoken about LGBT issues before.
But at his leader’s press conference, Mr Bolton said equality has gone “too far”.
He told press: “Quite honestly, I think it is getting a bit far when we are encouraging children in some cases to question their own sexuality.
“I think that is certainly going too far.”
Asked about trans people, he said: “What I have a problem with is that we should all have a choice in that debate.
“If somebody feels it has gone too far they should be free to express that concern.
“What concerns me more than anything else at the moment in that debate is that there is an effort to silence any dissenting voice and I don’t think that is in keeping with the principle of freedom of speech.”
Elsewhere at its party conference, UKIP unveiled a new website encouraging people to ‘come out’… for Brexit.
The struggling party has churned its way through a string of leaders in the past two years – with the reigns passing between Nigel Farage, Suzanne Evans (whose acting leadership was revoked before she even took up the post), Nigel Farage, Diane James, Nigel Farage, Paul Nuttall and Steve Crowther.
Mr Bolton won just 29.9% of the vote in the race, but was declared the winner in a wide field that included far-right candidate Anne Marie Waters, the party’s gay former Deputy Leader Peter Whittle, and controversial London Assembly Member David Kurten.
Ahead of the conference, Support 4 The Family issued a survey to leadership candidates asking whether they would agree to abolish same-sex marriage, ban LGBT sex ed in schools, and whether gay people can be ‘cured’.
While Mr Bolton did not respond, Mr Kurten – backed by influential Leave.EU donor Arron Banks – made comments linking homosexuality to childhood sexual abuse in his responses to the group.
He said: “The latest scientific studies show that incidence of homosexuality in adults decreases with age, so it is unlikely to be fixed at birth.
“Study after study also shows that the incidence of homosexuality is much higher among people who have been sexually abused as children. This is an issue which needs to be addressed but is not because of political correctness.”
Meanwhile, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage headed to the US this week to rally support for the most homophobic Senate candidate in modern history.
A retired bishop who has defended gay ‘cure’ therapy was given a prime speaking spot at the party’s conference.
Former Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir Ali, a notorious opponent of LGBT rights, will address party members
He has defended gay ‘cure’ therapy, and has said of gay people: “We welcome homosexuals, but we want them to repent and be changed.”
In 2012 the bishop signed a letter to back a therapist who was found guilty of professional malpractice last year after offering ‘gay cure’ therapy.
The bishop said of gay cure therapy: “We believe that people who seek, freely, to resolve unwanted same-sex attractions hold the moral right to receive professional assistance.
“Whether motivated by Christian conscience or other values, clients, not practitioners, have the prerogative to choose the yardstick by which to define themselves.”
He claimed of same-sex parenting: “This is social experimentation. It’s one thing for a child not to have a mother or father through tragedy but it is another to plan children to come into the world without a father.
“The results of ‘father-hunger’ can be seen in [lack of] educational achievement and on our streets, where it contributes to delinquency.”
Outside the EU
Lawyers and activists say dozens of gay and transgender people in Azerbaijan have been swept up in raids in the capital of Baku this month and some were sentenced to up to 30 days in jail.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in majority-Muslim Azerbaijan in 2000, but animosity toward LGBT people remains strong.
Gulnara Mehtiyeva of the Minority Azerbaijan organization told The Associated Press the arrests that started on Sept. 18 “are the most extensive raids against representatives of sexual minorities in our country.”
An attorney helping to coordinate legal representation for those arrested, Samed Rahimli, says at least 46 people have been sentenced to between 10 to 30 days in jail for resisting police.
Interior Ministry spokesman Ehsan Zahidov said the arrests were sparked by citizen complaints of “disrespect.”
“Of the detained sexual minorities, 16 showed AIDS or syphilis. They are giving sexual services with two or three people a day, spreading the infection,” Zahidov said.
But the Nefes LGBT Azerbaijan Alliance on Friday posted a statement from one of those detained who denied being a sex worker. The man, identified only as Hasan, said on the group’s Facebook page that police beat him, claimed he was a sex worker and demanded information about his alleged clients.
Two international rights groups called on Egyptian authorities on Saturday to halt their crackdown on people suspected of homosexuality following the waving of the LGBT rainbow flag at a recent concert in Cairo.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also urged Egypt, a majority Muslim country of some 95 million people, to call off the anal examination of people detained on suspicion of homosexuality to determine whether they were engaged in same-sex sexual relations.
They said the practice amounted to torture and called it “abhorrent” and scientifically unsound.
Homosexuality is highly taboo in Egypt among Muslims and minority Christians alike, but it is not explicitly prohibited by law. Egypt regularly arrests gay men, with large police raids on private parties or locations such as public baths, restaurants and bars. In practice, they prosecute individuals under such charges as “immorality” and “debauchery.”
Egypt arrested at least seven people last week after footage of the rainbow flag raising surfaced on social media. The incident took place during a Sept. 22 concert by Lebanese indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila, a jazzy, electro-Arabesque group whose lead singer is openly gay.
Most Egyptians see homosexuality as a practice that goes against nature and religion and insist that it’s a social disease exported by a decadent West. At home, most homosexuals keep their sexual orientation a secret known only to close friends, fearing social stigma.
Local fiction and films with homosexual characters are rare and typically accompanied by their share of controversy. Scenes involving sex or displays of affection between same-sex couples in foreign movies are censored.
The media, particularly celebrity hosts of TV talk shows, routinely feed on stories about the arrest of homosexuals, taking the high moral ground and inciting authorities to do more to “cleanse” the streets.
Both Amnesty and HRW said in their Saturday statements that a total of 11 people had been arrested since the concert, held at an upscale mall in an eastern Cairo suburb.
“These men should be released immediately and unconditionally — not put on trial,” said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty’s North Africa Campaigns Director. “A sinister smear campaign by Egyptian media against those believed to have raised the rainbow flag at the Mashrou’ Leila concert, has given security forces a green light to carry out arrests of at least 11 people based on their alleged sexual orientation,” said Bounaim.
Egypt should stop devoting state resources to hunting down people for their sexual orientation and instead focus on improving its rights record, said HRW, alluding to the ongoing crackdown by authorities on Islamists and secular pro-democracy activists while slapping draconian restrictions on street demonstrations and freedom of speech.
“Whether they were waving a rainbow flag, chatting on a dating app, or minding their own business in the streets, all these debauchery arrest victims should be immediately released,” HRW’s Sarah Leah Whitson said. “The Egyptian government, by rounding people up based on their presumed sexual orientation, is showing flagrant disregard for their rights.”
The government maintains that its top priorities are improving the economy and defeating Islamic militants waging an insurgency whose epicenter is in the Sinai Peninsula.
Malta has become the “gold standard” of LGBTQI reforms, according to the head of the United Nations’ LGBT equality campaign.
In a video endorsement, Charles Radcliffe, who also heads the Equality and Non-discrimination team at the UN Human Rights office in New York, said Malta had lit the way in the sector.
“Malta has become a beacon of hope in the struggle for these rights,” he said.
The video was unveiled at a press conference by Equality Minister Helena Dalli, as part of a series of similar conferences marking the first 100 days of this administration.
Ministerial consultant Silvan Agius said the government had had a strong working relationship with Mr Radcliffe’s office during the previous legislature, and that he had also visited Malta for a conference on LGBT rights.
The world had witnessed a “quiet revolution” in Malta in this sector, Mr Radcliffe said, adding that it was remarkable that all this had been accomplished in consultation with the wider community.
Dr Dalli said the government had hit the ground running this legislature and was working towards a consultative council on women’s rights and a number of other initiatives.
Upcoming reforms, she added, included a gender clinic that would ensure medical rights for LGBT citizens.