In a snap vote on Friday, members of Parliament voted to legalize same-sex marriage in Germany. Previously, civil unions were permitted but same-sex couples were not allowed to marry.
The legislation passed on a vote of 393 to 226. Four lawmakers abstained.
NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports for Morning Edition on why the sudden vote happened today:
National elections this fall have something to do with it. At this point, 83 percent of Germans favor same-sex marriage and a majority even in Chancellor Merkel's CDU party are said to favor it. So when Merkel, during a conversation with journalists from the women's magazine Brigitte earlier this week, said she thought MPs should vote their conscience.
Her hope, however, was to have the vote happen after the election in the new parliamentary session, but her ruling coalition partner and main challenger party, the SPD, were having none of it. The Social Democrats with the Left Party and Green Party forced the issue onto the last parliamentary day's agenda.
Merkel, who voted against same-sex marriage, says the opposite view must be respected. She has said she believes the country's law sees marriage as between a man and a woman.
The measure, which is expected to see legal challenges, also paves the way for gay couples to adopt — a position Merkel says she supports.
Merkel is seeking a fourth term as chancellor in September's general election. She is currently way ahead of any challenger in the polls.
The New York Times reports:
"Approval of same-sex marriage in Germany could build momentum for similar legislation in other German-speaking countries, like Austria and Switzerland, said Katrin Hugendubel, advocacy director of ILGA-Europe, a gay and transgender rights group. She said the developments in Germany illustrated the difference that opposition parties can make.
"For us, the most important lesson is for the opposition to be very outspoken in supporting L.G.B.T.I. rights," Ms. Hugendubel said. "The Social Democrats' and the Greens' making it a coalition condition raised the pressure on the conservatives, so it's very important that those in favor across Europe make it a condition, and be very strong in their support."
More than a dozen European countries — including Ireland, France and Spain — have legalized same-sex marriages.