While most in Germany support the right for gay and lesbian citizens to marry, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that she opposes same-sex marriage — but that gay people in the country should still enjoy equal rights.
"For me, personally, marriage is a man and a woman living together. That is my concept," she told the German YouTube personality Florian Mundt in a candid interview.
Same-sex marriage is not legal in Germany, but the vast majority of Germans support changing the law. According to a 2013 opinion poll, as many of 74 percent of Germans expressed support for gay marriage. And even in Merkel's conservative party (CDU), nearly two thirds were in favor.
In Tuesday's interview, Merkel applauded Germany's recent progress on gay rights, and emphasized that same-sex couples should have some legal protection.
"We have come a long way," the chancellor said. "I remember, 25 years ago, many people didn't dare to say that they are gay or lesbian. . . luckily we overcame this; you can enter a partnership, a civil partnership."
Germany first instituted civil partnerships in 2001, and has steadily expanded rights for same-sex partners over the last 15 years. In 2013 same-sex couples were allowed some of the tax breaks available to opposite-sex couples. And in 2014, Germany's constitutional court ruled that gay-couples could adopt children. France also legalized adoption for same-sex couples in 2013, and it has been legal in England since 2002.
"It's very hard to say you are opposed to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and fail to recognize that excluding people from access to marriage amounts to another form of discrimination," Jessica Stern, Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, told VICE News.
In May, after Ireland instituted gay-marriage, Merkel announced she would not push for similar measures in Germany. Her office told Reuters at the time that "same-sex marriages are not a goal of this government."
Tuesday's comments went a step further, outlining Merkel's view that "[I want] equality, but I make a difference at some point."
"It seems she's saying that certain institutions that are so hallowed. . . that they should not be made available to LGBT families," Stern said. "That's why there's a problem here."
Still, Stern applauds efforts to extend some rights to LGBTQ Germans. "Clearly there are signs of progress," she said. "But if you talk to German LBGTQ activists, they will tell you they want more."