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Same-sex couples win rights

By Heather Cottin

A German law providing a range of partnership rights to same-sex couples was scheduled to take effect Aug. 1 after a July 18 court ruling upheld it. The measure permits same-sex couples to register their relationships.

The German Constitutional Court rejected a move by the states of Bavaria and Saxony to block the law, clearing the way for it to take effect.

Reactionary Christian Democrats in Bavaria had called the law "the greatest attack on the institution of marriage in decades." But last Nov. 10, when the lower house of Parliament passed the law, Manfred Bruns of the German Lesbian and Gay Association called it "a historical day for lesbians and gays in Germany."

Same-sex couples now will be able to make their relationships official in all state registry offices. Under the partnership law, couples can share a common surname, and have spousal-type rights in areas including inheritance, health insurance, child custody and alimony.

Germany still maintains some tax discrimination against same-sex couples. Also, same-sex partners are still legally barred from adopting children.

Several European countries have granted various rights to same-sex relationships. In only one country, the Netherlands, same-sex couples can be legally married.

In the United States, only Vermont has implemented a law providing substantive partnership rights to same-sex couples. However, since President Bill Clinton signed the 1996 "Defense of Marriage" Act banning federal recognition of same-sex relationships, couples registered under Vermont's law face further battles when they try to actually claim their rights.

Still, the advances toward winning equality for same-sex relationships, internationally and in the United States, are extremely significant--especially considering that the modern movement for lesbian, gay, bi and trans liberation only began in 1969. None of these legal developments would have been possible without the movement that has pressed for change. The extension of partnership rights in Germany, which will cover foreigners as well as German nationals, is the latest but not the last in a series of hard-won victories.

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