German minister wants equal parenting rights for married lesbian couples

Justice Minister Marco Bushman says he wants to see Germany recognise both partners in a lesbian married couple as mothers.

Two women stand together in Alexanderplatz, Berlin, on the International Day for Lesbian Visibility in 2019.
Two women stand together in Alexanderplatz, Berlin, on the International Day for Lesbian Visibility in 2019. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Paul Zinken

Currently in Germany there is no legal regulation on parenthood for a married female couple. It means that only the biological mother is legally recognised as a parent and her partner has to go through a formal adoption process to become the child’s second parent, even if they are married.

It is a process that can take months or even years. But that looks set to change.

“If a child is born into a marriage between a man and a woman, the man – regardless of biological paternity – is legally the father,” Federal Minister Bushman (FDP)  told Germany’s Rheinische Post and the General-Anzeiger in an interview. 

“The question is: why should this be different in a marriage between two women?”

Buschmann said the decisive factor should be “that two people take care of the child, provide love and security, and also legally stand up for the child as a community”.

He said it should therefore become the norm that in a marriage, the two mothers “are recognised as parents in the sense of joint motherhood”.

“However, we must not lose sight of the rights of the biological father,” added Buschmann. 

Buschmann’s demand is in line with what the traffic light coalition, made up of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and FDP, set out as a goal in their coalition agreement at the end of last year.

The agreement stated: “If a child is born into the marriage of two women, both are automatically legal mothers of the child, unless otherwise agreed.”

A reform of the law of parental rights has been in the works for some time in Germany.

Having to go through an adoption procedure “is rightly perceived as discriminatory by lesbian couples”, Buschmann’s predecessor Christine Lambrecht (SPD) had said in summer 2020, adding that “a mother should not have to adopt her child”.

READ ALSO: How gay and lesbian couples are still facing obstacles in parenting rights

But so far, there has been no real movement on legal regulation in parenthood for a married female couple.

The Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe is looking for clarity on this issue. 

Last year, the Higher Regional Court (OLG) in Celle referred a case on the recognition of two mothers to this court.

Judges in Lower Saxony consider it unconstitutional that there is no provision for a married female couple in the paragraphs on parenthood in Germany’s Civil Code.

This issue remains unresolved even though same-sex marriages were declared legal in Germany in October 2017.

Critics said there were errors in the implementation of the new law that meant parental rights were not subsequently changed and the civil registry of births wasn’t established for same-sex partners across the country.

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‘Breaking point’: Why German pediatric wards are filling to capacity

Overcrowded patient rooms, days-long stays in the ER, transfer of sick babies to hospitals more than 100 kilometers away: the current wave of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections in Germany is pushing children's hospitals to their limits. 

'Breaking point': Why German pediatric wards are filling to capacity

The German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (Divi) said on Thursday that there was a “catastrophic situation” in children’s intensive care units. 

According to the physicians, a wave of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections can be expected every year starting in the autumn. 

Yet this year “there are fewer and fewer pediatric hospital beds available overall” as well as a lack of nursing staff, Divi Secretary General Florian Hoffmann explained Wednesday on ZDF’s Morgenmagazin.

Because all beds were full in one case, a child was transferred from the Hannover Medical School (MHH) to Magdeburg on Friday night, a distance of around 150 kilometers. 

“My colleagues had called 21 clinics,” said Gesine Hansen, Medical Director of the MHH Clinic for Pediatric Pneumology, Allergology and Neonatology, told DPA. 

The child, who was about one-year old, had an RSV infection, which can be life-threatening, especially for babies and children with pre-existing conditions.

READ ALSO: 7 things to know about visiting a doctor in Germany

‘Catching up’

Some health experts have said that hospitals are now filled to capacity because children had minimal social contact during the pandemic and are now catching up on infections.

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), an estimated 5.6 severe cases of RSV respiratory illness occur worldwide per 1,000 children in the twelve months after birth. 

Within the first year of life, 50 to 70 percent would typically have experienced at least one infection with RSV, and by the end of the second year of life, nearly all children should have experienced at least one infection. 

In the wake of protective measures against Covid-19, however, many such infections had temporarily failed to materialise. 

‘Breaking point’

According to Divi, hardly any clinics had a free crib or free pediatric intensive care bed in the past few days.

“Children have to lie in the emergency room for days,” Hoffmann said.

Yet the peak of the current wave of respiratory infections in children has by no means been reached, Hoffmann said. “The situation in practices and clinics will get even worse in the coming weeks.”

“We are at the breaking point,” said Matthias Keller, head of the Children’s Hospital Dritter Orden Passau already. The rooms are often double-occupied, he said. In some cases, there were too few monitors and not enough equipment for respiratory support.

READ ALSO: Flu season makes a comeback in Germany

A child with RSV being treated at the Olgahospital in Stuttgart. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

“Some patient rooms are like bed storage areas, where you really have to crawl over the beds to get to the sick child, because the parent bed is lined up with the patient bed,” said Keller, who is also chairman of the South German Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

This has far-reaching consequences for other young children who need treatment. When an infant who has just been resuscitated is admitted to a children’s hospital that is actually fully occupied, a three-year-old has to wait there for the third day in a row for his urgently needed heart operation.

‘Responsibility of politicians’

A wave of infections usually lasts six to eight weeks. In Bavaria, Lower Saxony and Berlin, as well as North Rhine-Westphalia, clinics are reporting a “maximally tense situation,” reported Divi on Thursday.

The Düsseldorf University Hospital, for example, is experiencing a wave of influenza among its young patients in addition to the RSV wave, which is “causing massive problems primarily for children up to elementary school age,” said University Hospital spokesman Tobias Pott.

In the Rhineland, “all beds are completely full” at times, said Jörg Dötsch, president of the German Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. An ER waiting time of six to seven hours is not uncommon, he says. 

“It is very unpleasant when children and their families have to virtually camp out in the emergency room,” says Dötsch, who is also director of the Clinic for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at the University Hospital in Cologne. 

READ ALSO: Healthcare in Germany: How to get a faster appointment with a specialist doctor

What are the solutions?

At their meeting on Thursday in Hamburg, intensive care physicians and intensive care nurses will discuss approaches to solving the crisis. 

One solution may be to temporarily bring nursing staff from adult facilities into the children’s hospitals, says Hoffmann, who is also a senior physician at Dr. von Hauner’s Children’s Hospital at the University of Munich. 

But above all, he says, many more pediatric nursing staff need to be trained. “We need to strengthen nursing,” he explained. “Only then do we have a chance.”

Others said more money needed to be invested in pediatric medicine and vaccines, even if it is less profitable.

“The fact that children’s lives are currently in danger is the responsibility of politicians,” said Jakob Maske, spokesman for the Professional Association of Pediatricians and Adolescents.

“Nowadays medicine has to be profitable – not cure diseases, but make money.”

READ ALSO: How private investors are buying up healthcare practices in Germany