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Wednesday, 1 August, 2001, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Germany legalises gay marriage
Heinz Friedrich Harre and his partner Reinhard Luechow
The first men to be married celebrate in Hanover
The first gay couples in Germany have tied the knot after a new law came into power allowing a form of gay marriage.

It should cause something to be recognised as normal everywhere in Germany that was never abnormal

Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit
Gudrun Pannier and Angelika Baldow took their vows in Berlin to become the first couple to marry.

"It is exciting to be the first couple and for us it is a great honour," said Ms Baldow.

The first men off the mark were Heinz Friedrich Harre and his partner Reinhard Luechow, who were married in Hanover.

In Hamburg, where an informal gay partnership has been allowed for two years, a "mass wedding" of 15 couples will take place attended by prominent politicians including the leader of the Green Party, Claudia Roth.

Register offices around Germany said their switchboards were jammed with calls from gay couples.

But there have been delays implementing the law in some parts of the country as three states attempt to overturn the legislation at the constitutional court.

Rights and responsibilities

Germany's version of gay marriage will give couples the same inheritance and tenants' rights as heterosexual married couples.

Angelika Baldown (L) and Gudrun Pannier
Angelika Baldown (L) and Gudrun Pannier celebrate under the media spotlight
A foreigner legally joined in a gay partnership to a German will also gain the right to citizenship here.

Partners will also have a responsibility to maintain and support the other if he or she is in financial difficulties.

But attempts to give same-sex partners the same tax and welfare benefits as those enjoyed by straight couples were defeated in the upper house of the German parliament where Chancellor Schroeder's coalition is in a minority.

And unlike gay couples in the neighbouring Netherlands, German couples will not have the right to adopt.

Legal battle

The states of Bavaria, Saxony and Thueringen are still engaged in a legal battle over the partnership law, claiming that it undermines the constitutional protection of the family.

Although an earlier ruling by the constitutional court ordered all states to implement the law pending a final decision on its constitutionality, some states have not yet done so.

Now gay couples are taking legal action to try to force the law to be implemented.

Despite the difficulties the legislation has faced, the gay community considers it a triumph after years of campaigning.

Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit, who recently announced that he was gay, said it was "a great step forward".

"It should cause something to be recognised as normal everywhere in Germany that was never abnormal," he said.

The BBC's Peter Morgan
"Gay marriage is already normal in around half a dozen European countries"
See also:

30 Jul 01 | Europe
Germany split over gay marriage
01 Apr 01 | Europe
Dutch gay couples exchange vows
01 Dec 00 | Europe
Germany approves 'gay marriage'
12 Sep 00 | Europe
Dutch legalise gay marriage
18 Sep 00 | UK
Gay marriage: In the pink
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