Germany's parliament on Friday passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage ― a sudden landmark shift for LGBTQ rights in Europe's most populous country.
The vote came days after Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled that she was open to changing Germany's marriage laws to include same-sex couples, prompting a hurried push from opposition lawmakers to pass the so-called marriage-for-all legislation.
Merkel's ruling coalition had long opposed a vote on same-sex marriage, an issue that is divisive among her conservative bloc. But during an interview on Monday with German women's magazine Brigitte, Merkel said she was open to members of her coalition voting their conscience, rather than holding the party line.
Merkel's shift came after she visited a lesbian couple raising eight foster children. She called her dinner with the family "a life-changing experience" and said she realized her party's arguments against same-sex marriage were no longer valid.
LGBTQ-rights groups and analysts, however, viewed Merkel's about-face as a way for her to shut down criticism from pro-marriage equality opposition parties ahead of Germany's general election later this year.
Merkel's comment sparked rapid reactions from opposition politicians, who called for immediate action on the issue. The leader of Germany's Social Democratic Party, Martin Schulz, demanded a vote within the week. Schulz is trailing Merkel in opinion polls.
Some of the more conservative lawmakers in Merkel's Christian Democratic Union opposed the legislation and blamed the chancellor for shifting her political stance.
Polls show that a strong majority of German voters favor same-sex marriage. A Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency survey earlier this year showed 83 percent of Germans support it.
Germany has allowed civil partnerships since 2001. But unlike many neighboring countries, it has lacked full same-sex marriage equality. A growing number of countries in Europe have legalized same-sex marriage, including Finland and Slovenia this year. Italy remains among European states that permit only civil unions and do not grant full rights afforded to married couples.