German lawmakers voted on Friday to legalize same sex marriage after a few hours of contentious debate. The final count from the Bundestag (Germany’s parliament) was 393 in favor, 226 opposed, and four abstentions.
“If the constitution guarantees one thing, it is that anyone in the country can live as they wish,” parliamentary leader of Angela Merkel’s Social Democratic Party Thomas Oppermann said in opening debate.
Surprisingly, Angela Merkel voted against the measure. Merkel had softened her position in recent days, allowing her party to vote on the issue as they saw fit. She also seemed content with accepting the results.
“For me, marriage in German law is marriage between a man and a woman and that is why I did not vote in favour of this bill today,” Merkel explained in a statement following the vote. “I hope that with today’s vote, not only that mutual respect is there between the individual positions, but also that a piece of social peace and togetherness could be created,” she later continued.
Merkel’s position has already drawn comparisons to Hillary Clinton, who opposed gay marriage as recently as 2013 but came to embrace the direction of the country and open her arms to the LGBT community.
Merkel allowing the vote may also be part of a campaign strategy. Friday’s parliamentary session was the last before Germany’s supper recess, and when they reconvene, it will be following the national elections set to take place in September. Merkel is the clear favorite to win reelection as chancellor, but she may be able to gain seats for her Social Democratic Party following the historic vote, giving her a large governing majority.
The vote came as a shock to many German. Efforts to legalize gay marriage have been going strong for the better part of two decades in Germany, but the vote has always been blocked in parliament. Just on Monday, Chancellor Merkel first announced she was going to push for a vote on the issue, leaving gay rights advocates scrambling to mobilize for Friday’s vote.
“It’s very positive for the self-esteem of gays and lesbians; it’s very important for people coming out, knowing that they have this equality; and it sends a clear message to any homophobic refugees coming to Germany: We have equality here,” addiction therapist at Belin’s gay counseling center Arnd Bächler remarked after the vote.
Germany’s legalization of same sex marriage could have large impacts throughout Europe, prompting other countries to follow suit.