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In 2001 the German Parliament passed legislation recognising same-sex unions. It is known as the Life Partnership Act (Eingetragene Lebenspartnerschaft) and granted same sex couples a number of rights enjoyed by married heterosexual couples, in particular:
However, campaigners were not completely satisfied, feeling that legislation did not go far enough and three states attempted to overturn the legislation claiming that it undermined constitutional protection of the family. The courts upheld the law.
In 2004 the German Parliament extended additional rights to same-sex couples. The Life Partnership Law (Revision) Act means that:
Tax benefits between same-sex partners have still not been brought in line with those granted to heterosexual couples.
The Lesbian and Gay Federation of Germany (Lesben- und Schwulenverband Deutschlands- LSVD) continues to campaign for further rights of adoption and equal tax and welfare benefits for so-called "Rainbow families".
As with heterosexual marriages, marriage can take place as long as both parties have reached eighteen years of age. (The age of consent in Germany is fourteen for gay, lesbian and heterosexual relationships but parental consent is needed to marry before age eighteen).
Non-Germans legally joined in a same-sex marriage to a German citizen may apply for the right to citizenship.
Same-sex couples intending to marry in Germany should go to the local Embassy or Consulate and to the local magistrate's office (Standesamt) as soon as possible. Requirements vary between regions and districts so it is wise to check which rules apply locally.
A period of residence of at least 21 days is needed to give notice of marriage. In reality the formalities of obtaining documentation may take longer than this.
The country of origin of both parties is irrelevant but most districts ask any non-Germans intending to marry to provide a Certificate of No Impediment or Free Status (Ehefahigkeitszeugnis).
Germany insists on original or certified copies (not photocopies) of various documents. All of these must have been issued in the last six months. In the case of birth certificates this is likely to mean obtaining a new copy. The relevant Embassy may be able to assist with obtaining the required documentation.
For marriages where either one of the couple is not German, the documents are then sent to the Oberlandesgerichts Praesident who then verifies the legal status of the couple. This office then sends everything back to the Standesamt and the couple may then get married (or set a date for the wedding).
The marriage normally takes place in the consular district where the notice of marriage was given. If the district is different then documentation has to be provided to the new district before the marriage will be allowed.
Essentially the ceremony is the same as for heterosexual couples. For a marriage to be legally recognised in Germany both parties must appear at the local magistrate's office (Standesamt) in the presence of two witnesses. There is a charge for the wedding at the Standesamt and the ceremony is usually conducted in German. It is possible to engage the services of an interpreter.
Anyone planning to return to their country of origin or move elsewhere at a later date should bear in mind that many countries still do not recognise same-sex unions and the marriage may not be seen as valid.