Same-sex couple married in German Protestant church, a first

by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt

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For the first time, a same-sex couple were able to have a full wedding in a Protestant church in Berlin-Brandenburg on Aug. 14.

Sven Kretschmer and Tim Schmidt, who have been together for 14 years, were able to have a "classical" church marriage ceremony at St. Mary's church (Marienkirche) in central Berlin. They exchanged vows and rings and their marriage was recorded in the church register. The couple had already entered a civil partnership, a condition for couples who wish to marry in the church under German law. Up to now, same-sex couples have only been allowed to receive blessings in Protestant churches in Berlin.

Pastor Eric Haussmann, one of the two Protestant pastors who assisted at the marriage ceremony, said he was relieved that he no longer had to differentiate between same-sex and straight couples.

"We no longer have to consider artificial differences between marriages and blessings and can now officially marry people who want to commit themselves to one another," he told the German daily Berliner Zeitung. The church is closely linked with society and people's sensitivity for discrimination has greatly increased in recent years, he said, adding, "When two individuals declare that they want to commit themselves to one another and promise to do so, we bless that promise."

And Pastor Julius Münster, the other pastor who assisted at the couple's wedding, said that marriage is not a sacrament in the Protestant church like it is in the Catholic church. The wedding was a case of holding a church blessing ceremony for two Christian individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation, who had decided to journey through life together, he pointed out.

Pastors who are opposed to same-sex marriage are allowed to refuse to conduct them and couples are then offered an alternative pastor.

Same-sex church marriage is not nationwide in the German Protestant church, however. It is accepted in 20 Protestant church provinces such as in the Rhineland, Hesse-Nassau, Baden, and now Berlin-Brandenburg -- but Bavaria and Saxony Anhalt, for example, still only allow church blessings, and Würtemberg does not even permit same-sex couples to receive that.

And while the German state allows same-sex couples to enter a civil partnership, marriage is still reserved for heterosexual couples in Germany under constitutional law.

[Christa Pongratz-Lippitt is the Austrian correspondent for the London-based weekly Catholic magazine The Tablet.]

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