Last month's US supreme court ruling was something I wouldn't have been able to imagine ten years ago as an American. In 2004, no state in the union had gay marriage. In fact, a majority of states had constitutional bans on gay marriage (largely thanks to George W. Bush's re-election strategy that year). It's amazing how much changed in just a decade (check out the GIF below).
That year, in 2004, Massachusetts became the first US state to adopt gay marriage. But several states already had civil unions at that point. Vermont had adopted the first US civil unions in 2000, and it was followed by Connecticut, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Illinois, Oregon and California.
Massachusetts was a trend-setter. Within a few years, civil unions had become passé. The above-mentioned states all switched to full marriage, and were joined by many others. By the time of last month's supreme court decision, the majority of US states had already adopted gay marriage on their own.
Civil unions may have gone the way of the dodo in the United States, but here in Europe they are still a fact of life in Central Europe. Given that I was about to move to Germany when the US supreme court decision came out, I couldn't help but point out on Twitter that Alabama now has more progressive gay rights legislation than Germany. While the countries to its North and West have all adopted gay marriage, Germany has stuck by the civil unions it adopted in 2001. The same is true for its German-speaking neighbours Austria and Switzerland.
This week, in an interview with German vlogger Florian Mundt, Merkel said she still believes that gay couples should not be able to call their unions 'marriage'.
"For me, personally, marriage is a man and a woman living together."
"I’m someone who is very supportive of us eliminating all discrimination" she added. "We have come a long way; when I remember, 25 years ago, many people didn’t dare to say that they are gay or lesbian. Luckily we overcame this; you can enter a partnership, a civil partnership." She said she supports those partnerships, but nothing further. "I support us not discriminating against them when it comes to taxes, and to remove any other discrimination wherever we may find it."
So, no gay marriage for Germany any time soon. But the civil unions that remain in central Europe seem increasingly anachronistic. In 2015, civil unions increasingly look like a temporary stop-gap measure. And I think in hindsight we will look at this 2000-2015 experiment with civil unions as a temporary blip. People weren't quite ready for gay marriage, but they wanted to do something. It was like riding with training wheels. France and the UK have removed those training wheels by upgrading to full marriage.
I'd go so far as to say that it's hard to imagine a country in Latin America or Europe adopting civil unions now, post-2015. Sure, Estonia adopted civil unions last year. But Croatia (update: I meant Slovenia) went straight to full marriage. Ireland also skipped the 'civil union' stage and went straight to full marriage in May. If Italy ever gets around to it (and that's a big if), I doubt they would choose civil unions rather than marriage.
In any event, looking at a global map of gay marriage now, it just seems strange that Germany doesn't have it and countries like Argentina and South Africa do (not to mention Alabama!). But as long as Merkel's centre-right CDU party is in power, I can't see this situation changing any time soon.