- Ruling comes as the country is mired in a debate on gay rights
- It says couples in registered partnerships can get a similar tax break as married couples
- Angela Merkel's ruling party has opposed tax equality for those in homosexual partnerships
Germany's constitutional court has strengthened the rights of gay and lesbian couples, giving them a same tax benefit as heterosexual married couples.
The ruling, which came Wednesday, comes as the country is mired in an escalating debate on the status of homosexual partnerships.
The court ruled that gay couples who have entered into a "registered partnership," the German legal phrase for relationships similar to marriage, must be exempted from the country's land transfer tax just like straight married couples, according to a court news release.
The verdict comes as Germany's politicians are generally debating taxation for same-sex couples.
Angela Merkel's governing conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has traditionally been against tax equality for homosexual partnerships.
But recently, 13 members of the party called for an expansion of tax rights for same-sex couples.
The group wrote that it feels it is not acceptable that "politics time and again has to be ordered by the constitutional court to abolish inequalities."
Kristina Schroder, Germany's minister for family affairs and also a member of the CDU, has signaled support for the push, saying, "the suggestion comes at exactly the right time. In homosexual partnerships, people take long-term responsibility for each other. They are living conservative values," she told German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
However, more conservative members of the CDU have voiced concern about the matter, and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said at a recent news conference that he does not see an urgent need to revise the country's tax laws.
Vicious criticism has come from the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Merkel's CDU, which is also part of Germany's federal government. "The marriage of man and woman is under special protection because it is fundamentally oriented toward creating new life. This is not the case in homosexual relationships," the CSU's whip in Germany's parliament, Gerda Hasselfeldt, told ARD television.
The third partner in Germany's governing coalition, the Liberal Democrats, have long been fighting for tax equality for homosexual couples. In a statement on its website, the party says it welcomes additional members of Merkel's party joining its ranks in the debate.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, the former head of the Liberal Democrats, has recently come out as being gay. He lives in a registered partnership with his partner, Michael Mronz.
The German government, then under Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, passed a law in August 2001 to create registered partnerships that gave homosexual couple rights similar to those of married couples. But gays and lesbians still face tax inequalities, especially in the field of income taxes.
Germany's constitutional court also has cases pending against Germany's current treatment of gays and lesbians in the income tax system.