[JURIST] Germany's Justice Ministry [official website, in German] has introduced legislation that would grant several additional marriage rights to couples in same-sex civil unions. The move has reignited the same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] debate in Germany which legalized same-sex unions in 2001 but reserved several rights to heterosexual married couples. Chancellor Angela Merkel's junior coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party, was the author of the legislation [Suddeutsche Zeitung report, in German] and has been attempting to bring the issue of same-sex marriage to the forefront. It was also supported by several centrists in Merkel's own party, the Christian Democrats.
Germany has been slowly expanding its same-sex union rights. This expansion has been largely driven by court rulings. Earlier this month, a German court ruled that homosexual couples in a civil union should receive the same tax benefits [JURIST report] as heterosexual married couples. In 2010 the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that a portion of the tax code requiring gay couples to pay a larger inheritance tax than partners in heterosexual marriages is unconstitutional [JURIST report]. Before the ruling the German tax code required gay couples to pay between 17 and 50 percent for an inheritance tax upon the death of a partner, while heterosexual married partners were required to pay between 7 and 30 percent for the tax. In June of the same year an administrative court in Berlin held that a same-sex marriage performed abroad must be recognized [JURIST report] in a registered partnership in Germany.