‘Love wins’ in Germany

Champagne corks pop in Berlin as gay rights supporters celebrate a historic vote to legalize same-sex marriage Photographs by Andrea Gjestvang for CNN
Story by Laura Smith-Spark and Claudia Otto, CNN

Berlin (CNN) — Pouring rain could do nothing to dampen the spirits of scores of people who gathered outside the Bundestag in Berlin on Friday morning, some clutching rainbow umbrellas, to await parliament’s vote on a bill legalizing gay marriage in Germany.

As news came that the bill had passed — convincingly — they broke out into loud cheers, wept tears of joy and exchanged kisses. Some popped champagne corks in celebration despite the early hour.

This was the day that some had doubted would ever come. And now, in the space of a few days, an offer by Chancellor Angela Merkel to allow lawmakers a free vote on the issue has become all but law.

People celebrate outside the Chancellery in Berlin after lawmakers voted to legalize same-sex marriage.

Once Germany’s Senate approves the bill next week, as expected, homosexual couples in Germany will have the same rights as heterosexual couples to marry and jointly adopt children — barring any legal challenge.

“It is a very important moment for Germany and for the queer people in Germany, because we fought really long for equality in our rights and now it is time,” project manager Andreas Reschke told CNN.

Asked if he had any marriage plans, Reschke laughed and looked at his partner as he responded. “Yeah, maybe.”

Andreas Reschke kisses his boyfriend after the result was announced.

Nico, a 20-year-old student who preferred to give only his first name, said he had traveled with his partner from Dresden, 120 miles away, to be part of the landmark moment and that he was now “so happy.”

“We woke up very early and we knew it was raining in Berlin, but we thought it is so important we have to come here,” he said. “It is incredible, I can’t believe it. I think (Merkel) said it on Monday and today is Friday and we have a new law.”

The change means his dream of marriage is now possible, he said, as is his hope of one day adopting children.

Nico and Jan came to Berlin from Dresden to witness the historic moment.

Hannah Klaubert, 26, said it was important to be visible on such a significant day — and that the fight for equality was not over.

“There are still 200 people who voted against (the bill) today, so I think it’s going to be important still,” said Klaubert, who works for an international non-profit organization.

“And there are so many other issues like trans-rights and all other kinds of things that are not okay here and that we need to keep on fighting for.”

Hannah Klabuert hugs her partner.

Speaking after the bill passed, Merkel — who had until Monday opposed the holding of a free vote on the issue — said she had voted no, but that it had been important to put it to a vote of conscience.

Klaubert said she was unimpressed by the way the Chancellor handled the issue. “I think it was just a political, cold-hearted strategy and I really don’t like it.”

For Torsten Benzin, a lawyer, the change in the law is hugely significant.

Torsten Benzin said Friday's vote was as monumental a moment as the fall of the USSR.

“It took almost 30 years in Germany, we fought for it and today is the day. For me personally, because I’m from the former GDR, this is as important as the Berlin Wall falling,” he said.

“I’m already in a partnership and of course, I will now finally change it into a real marriage.” This means no longer having to tick boxes on forms to say that he is “partnered” rather than married, Benzin said, adding: “My sexuality is nobody’s business.”

He said Merkel had delayed on the issue until her hand was finally forced by pressure from rival political parties ahead of September’s elections. “I believe that it was a tactical maneuver because she knew, if she didn’t do it now, it would be an ever-lasting thing for the next coalition negotiations.”

Rainy weather didn’t stop people from gathering outside the Bundestag in Berlin.

Software developer Sebastian Vetter told CNN he had braved the downpour to be part of the historic moment.

“It is important to show we are here, we support gay marriage, marriage equality, marriage for everyone — so that the people there who are giving their vote know we are here and we are proud to be part of the community,” he said.

Merkel could have acted on the issue far sooner, Vetter said, but “no matter how it happened it just happened. Now we got the chance and we have to use it.”

“It is a historical day and yes let's celebrate the whole weekend,” said Sebastian Vetter.

While he has no immediate plans to get married, Vetter is very happy to now have that option.

“Let’s see what the future brings, but as we saw in other countries, if there is gender equality people are more aware that people love people and that has nothing to do with their sex or gender.

“It is a step in the right direction to end discrimination.”

Andrea Gjestvang is a Norwegian photographer who splits her time between Oslo and Berlin. She is represented by Panos Pictures. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Photo editor: Brett Roegiers