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Merkel (Associated Press/Photo by Gero Breloer)

Squandering moral capital

Marriage | Germany ponders more legal recognition of same-sex relationships

A group of lawmakers from German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats called this week for same-sex couples in civil partnerships to be given the same tax breaks as heterosexual married couples.

This continues a trend in Europe toward legal recognition of same-sex relationships, but the idea faces skepticism among some of Merkel's traditionally minded German colleagues, who may be wondering about the long-term effects of the European experiment with sexual radicalism.

Granting same-sex couples the same income tax breaks enjoyed by heterosexual married couples would add to a string of departures from conservative orthodoxy under Merkel's leadership. Those have included abandoning military conscription and speeding up Germany's exit from nuclear power.

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In Germany, same-sex couples have been able to register civil partnerships that legally fall short of formal marriage since 2001. Heterosexual married couples can, unlike same-sex couples, reduce their tax burden by filing joint income tax returns, thus paying less than single taxpayers.

Merkel's party accepts partnerships, but many in her coalition are reluctant to go further; and the German Constitution states that "marriage and the family shall enjoy the special protection of the state."

Germany's highest court earlier this month ruled that a civil servant in a same-sex partnership was wrongly denied a wage supplement granted to married colleagues, and the court is currently considering complaints against the difference in income tax rules.

The lawmakers in the ruling coalition who are calling for a change said it was "not acceptable that policymakers repeatedly ... have to be ordered by the Federal Constitutional Court to abolish this unequal treatment."

Opposition parties and the Free Democrats, the junior partners in Merkel's center-right coalition who have long called for a change welcomed the lawmakers' call.

But it may be a tough sell to some of their own colleagues-not least those in the Christian Social Union (CSU), the socially conservative Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats.

Gerda Hasselfeldt, the head of the CSU's parliamentary group in Berlin, told German news agency DAPD she was "extremely skeptical" about granting same-sex couples equal tax treatment. "Marriage between a man and a woman has special protection because it is fundamentally directed at the propagation of life," she said. "That is not the case in homosexual relationships."

Ten nations have legalized homosexual "marriage" since 2001, most of them in Europe: Netherlands (2001), Belgium (2003), Spain and Canada (2005), South Africa (2006), Norway and Sweden (2009), Portugal, Iceland, and Argentina (2010). Two weeks ago Scottish politicians proposed a plan to do the same.

This is hardly surprising, according to Stephen Baskerville, professor of international relations at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and visiting lecturer at the Anglo-American University in Prague. He pointed out that Europeans are generally more liberal on issues such as same-sex relationships and more supportive of the welfare state.

"But as far as social consequences," Baskerville said, "Europeans can afford these luxuries more than Americans without feeling the consequences right away because they have centuries of moral capital built up by Christian faith." European societies have on many issues a cultural consensus with roots in Christianity, he said, with contributions from medieval constitutionalism, Renaissance and Reformation thought, and the Enlightenment.

For example, Baskerville said, the Czech Republic is reputedly the most atheistic country in the world, yet it has, compared to the United States, relatively low rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births: "A Czech friend explains this as the vague notion that such things are simply not right and should not be done."

But in adopting the sexual radicalism that was first nurtured and propagated in the United States, he said, "Europe is squandering this moral capital, and as it does so it imports American-style problems: divorce, out-of-wedlock births, a welfare underclass, crime, and so on."

Ironically, Baskerville added, "At precisely the time when Europeans are confronting the limits of the welfare state, the U.S. seems determined to vastly expand its own."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Les Sillars
Les Sillars

Les directs the journalism program at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and is the editor of WORLD's Mailbag section.

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