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Gay Couples Protest Ban On Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

August 20, 1992

BERLIN (AP) _ Despite the country’s general tolerance of homosexuality, gay German couples cannot legally marry, which besides giving their relationships official sanction would bring them tax and other legal advantages.

So in a symbolic protest in 50 cities on Wednesday, gay couples lined up outside city halls and tried to tie the knot.

Officials rejected their requests, setting the stage for a court battle.

″I love him and there would be legal advantages to being married,″ said 21-year-old Heiko Ehrig, as he nervously waited his turn with partner Thomas Schnur.

The advantages include inheritance rights, tax breaks and pension rights.

″My God, we were nervous,″ gasped Andreas Voss, who wore a two-piece maroon dress, pearl necklace, stockings and high heels.

He and his partner, Rupert Lummer, embraced for photographers after handing in their application in Berlin.

Organizers said more than 250 couples took part in Wednesday’s action in cities including Hamburg, Hanover, Frankfurt and Leipzig.

Same-sex marriages are legal in neighboring Denmark. In the Netherlands just to the west, homosexual couples can sign a legally binding ″cohabitation contract″ specifying rights in the event they split up.

A few U.S. cities give legal status to same-sex households.

In March, the District of Columbia extended legal recognition and health- care benefits to unmarried people, including homosexuals, who are living together. San Francisco and Seattle have similar laws.

Germany’s homosexual community is certain to make a test case out of the rejections of the marriage license applications, and many people predict the appeal will reach the country’s highest court.

Germany is more tolerant of homosexuality than are most countries, including the United States. The only remaining German criminal penalty bans men over age 18 from having homosexual contacts with boys below that age.

Society also is widely tolerant of homosexuality. There are few reports of ″gay-bashing″ attacks or discrimination.

Yet, Germany’s federal parliament is certain to resist any attempts to legalize same-sex marriages. Conservative politicians oppose the idea, as do the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches.

″We can’t marry these people, because there’s no legal basis for it,″ said Guenther Bahrdt, head of the office that supervises civil marriages in Berlin’s Schoeneberg district.

Asked about his personal feelings, Bahrdt said: ″From the start, I was taught not to recognize such a thing. So, there is a certain reluctance.″

But he assured reporters he would go through with the marriages if the law were changed.

Never losing his poise, Bahrdt counseled a dozen couples one by one, dutifully taking their marriage license applications but explaining he couldn’t grant their requests.

Toward the end, Bahrdt was surrounded by reporters, television crews and photographers as the nervous couples sat across from him in his tiny office.

″I think these unequal laws that we now have must be knocked down,″ said Edith Maria Stoll after the rejection of a marriage license for herself and her partner. ″I think we can only do that by taking this action.″

The most prominent lesbian pair seeking the right to marry consists of television comedian Hella von Sinnen and Cornelia Scheel, daughter of former West German President Walter Scheel.

They applied for a marriage license before Wednesday’s action.

Update hourly