Largely unnoticed by the general public, the change in marriage law takes effect on January 1, 2009 and replaces legislation from the time of Bismarck that barred priests from marrying couples before their unions were sealed in a civil ceremony.
Ever since 1875, German couples wishing to have a religious blessing for their marriages had to also go before their local civil registrar. That will no longer be necessary next year - but those who choose a church wedding could end up with a second-class marriage.
German legislators changed the law a few years ago with the aim of no longer discriminating against religious couples, but the new rules essentially mean Christian weddings won't carry the same weight as civil ones. Legal experts have pointed out such couples will not have rights to inheritance or alimony, nor will they be able to take advantage of tax benefits for married people.
That's could be why some members of the Catholic Church want to require a civil marriage licence before a couple can get married by a priest. Karl-Heinz Vogt, a Catholic official in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, told Cologne daily Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger on Friday that much of the clergy would have preferred to stick to the old practice. “There won't be fervent championing” of Church only unions, he said.