Germany votes to legalize same-sex marriage despite Merkel's thumbs down

German lawmakers have voted to legalize same-sex marriage in a snap vote only days after Chancellor Angela Merkel changed her longstanding position.

Chancellor Angela Merkel voted against the measure but allowed free vote by fellow lawmakers

Katrin Goering Eckardt, Volker Beck and Claudia Roth of Germany's environmental party, the Greens, cut a cake after a session of the lower house of parliament Bundestag voted on legalizing same-sex marriage. (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)

German lawmakers have voted to legalize same-sex marriage in a snap vote only days after Chancellor Angela Merkel changed her longstanding position.

Lawmakers voted 393-226 in favour of legalizing "marriage for everybody," with four abstentions.

Merkel voted against the measure, but paved the way for Friday's vote after saying Monday that lawmakers could take up the issue as a "question of conscience" — freeing members of her conservative coalition, which has been against same-sex marriage, to individually vote for it.

That prompted her centre-left rivals to call for a snap vote, adding to the agenda Friday on parliament's last regular session before the Sept. 24 elections.

Jan-Marco Luczak, who belongs to Merkel's Christian Democrat party, urged his fellow party members to vote for same-sex marriage.

"It would be absurd to try and protect marriage by preventing people to marry," he said.

Social Democrat lawmaker Johannes Kahrs was critical of Merkel for her longtime opposition to gay marriage.

"Many thanks for nothing," he said during the debate on the issue.

"For me, marriage in the basic law is marriage between a man and a woman and that is why I did not vote in favour of this bill today," Merkel said after the vote.

"It was a long, intensive debate and for many an emotionally moving discussion. This also goes for me personally. That's why I hope that the vote today not only promotes respect between different opinions but also brings more social cohesion and peace."

Men with rainbow flags stand in front of the Brandenburg Gate at an event organized by the SPD to celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage in Berlin. (Michael Kappeler/Associated Press)

Germany has allowed same-sex couples to enter civil partnerships since 2001, but has not granted them full marital rights, which include the possibility to jointly adopt children.
The legalization vote happened after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would allow her conservative lawmakers to follow their conscience in the vote. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images)

All of Merkel's potential coalition partners after the Sept. 24 election, including the centre-left Social Democrats of her challenger, Martin Schulz, have been calling for same-sex marriage to be legalized.

The new law won't take effect for several months because it still needs to pass the Upper House and be approved by the president, though those are formalities. It is also expected to face legal challenges.

Gay couples outside the chancellery, not far from parliament, kissed and hugged after the decision was announced, waving rainbow flags and carrying signs saying "Marriage for everybody."

"We've been happily married for eight years, but we could never call it that," said 38-year-old Shoshana Brandt, standing alongside her partner and their son. "We are happy and proud that we are now equal and we can live our love."