Bodo Mende, 60, and Karl Kreile, 59, made history today as the first same-sex couple to get married in Germany.
Held at Berlin’s Schoeneberg district town hall, it was the first wedding since the country’s new marriage law went into effect. Germany has now officially become the 14th European country and 23rd country worldwide to legalize gay marriage.
“Finally our country is joining the rest of Europe,” said Jörg Steinert, head of Berlin’s LGBT rights organization LSVD.
Kreile and Mende met in 1979 and have lived in a same-sex union since 2002. At the end of their wedding ceremony, they cut into a cake decorated with a rainbow and the phrase “Ehe fuer alle,” which means “marriage for all.”
“After 38 years together, this is a day we’ve waited a long time for,” Kreile told The Guardian. “We’ve actively campaigned for decades for the state to recognize us as equals, and finally we are able to celebrate a day we once thought may never come in our lifetimes.”
“I remember the shame we felt when we were turned away from a registry office 25 years ago when we confronted the registrar as part of an organized protest,” Mende added. “They made us feel like second-class citizens.”
German lawmakers voted to legalize same-sex marriage in June, just days after Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a conscience vote on the issue. The reform gives same-sex couples full marital rights, including tax advantages, and allows them to adopt children.
It’s estimated that Germany has the largest gay population in Europe with roughly 94,000 same-sex couples, and polling indicates more than 80% of the country supports same-sex marriage. Germany enacted civil partnerships in 2001, which offered many but not all the benefits of marriage.
The Guardian also notes that Berlin’s Schoeneberg district, immortalized in Christopher Isherwood’s novels, was the setting of the world’s first gay rights demonstration in 1922.
The Local reports that government software will be unable to officially record the marriage of two men or two women until next year, meaning the online marriage register will still temporarily record same-sex couples as “husband” and “wife.”
See more photos from today’s historic ceremony below.