Sexual relations between men have not been criminalized for 30 years

Status: 11.06.2024 15:25

Sexual relations between two men were not permitted in Germany for a long time. It was only after reunification that the crime was finally abolished. But that is by no means the end of it.

“I was astonished when I found out in 1994 that the paragraph had been abolished,” says Georg Härpfer in an interview with the KNA news agency. From its founding in 2015 to 2019, he was on the board of the Federal Interest Group for Gay Senior Citizens (BISS) for compensation payments to gay men who had been convicted on the basis of Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code. On March 10, 1994, the German Bundestag decided to repeal Paragraph 175. On June 11, 1994, it was deleted.

Since the early Middle Ages, homosexuality has been considered a crime in Europe. Since 1870/71, “unnatural fornication” between men was listed under number 175 in the Reich Penal Code. The National Socialists tightened the paragraph. Not only sexual acts were punishable, but also French kissing and later a “lascivious intent”. According to figures from the Lesbian and Gay Association in Germany (LSVD), by 1945 the Nazis had convicted around 50,000 men, most of whom died in concentration and extermination camps.

The GDR was involved in the Decriminalization more quickly

In the Federal Republic, Paragraph 175 remained in force in the version of the National Socialists until 1969. From 1969 onwards, sexual intercourse between adult gay men was no longer punishable. However, both partners had to be at least 21 years old. For heterosexual couples, however, the limit was 14 or 16 years, depending on the situation.

According to Härpfer, Paragraph 175 no longer had any relevance in society. However, the BISS was “surprised to discover that there were still convictions for consensual sex in the period from 1970 to 1994.”

In the GDR, homosexuality among adults was decriminalized as early as 1968. The last special regulations were abolished in 1988. They were replaced by a uniform youth protection regulation.

Those affected had to wait a long time for compensation and rehabilitation. In 2002, eight years after the abolition of Paragraph 175, homosexuals convicted during the Nazi era were rehabilitated. In 2017, a law finally came into force that overturned all convictions after 1945, both in the Federal Republic and in the GDR.

Violated human rights as the norm

The paragraph had an impact on many areas, recalls sociologist and board member of the LSVD, Jörg Hutter. Information stands in city centers were prohibited, and meetings always took place in secret. In an interview with KNA, he points out that paragraph 175 violated human rights. For gay men, this was the norm.

Even today, not everything that is desirable has been achieved legally in Germany, says Hutter. As a member of the LSVD board, he welcomes the proposals presented in April by a federal government expert commission to legalize surrogacy and egg donation. Surrogacy offers homosexual men, for example, new perspectives for starting a family.

“Where is the problem here?” asks Hutter, also in view of the criticism of the chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing. He pointed out that the dignity of the woman and the child would be violated. Hutter does not see this danger as a fundamental one in surrogacy. The child’s well-being could be just as endangered when living in a family with its biological parents.

“The most progressive government when it came to queer rights”

The Lesbian and Gay Association also has many demands when it comes to equal rights for queer people. Nevertheless, Andre Lehmann from the federal board of the LSVD says of the traffic light coalition: “It is by far the most progressive government we have had in recent years when it comes to queer rights.”

Silvia Breher, family policy expert for the CDU, would hardly disagree. However, she sees it differently. She sees the traffic light policy as an overemphasis on queer people, as she puts it: “But it is important that we have a balance between all issues – not just the issues of the queer community, which are legitimate – we also have to focus on family policy, early childhood education and the issue of violence against women.” And she feels that the federal government is not doing enough in this area.

Sven Lehmann, the Federal Government’s Queer Commissioner for the Green Party, naturally sees things differently. He cites the Self-Determination Act as an achievement, which allows people to adopt a different gender in a less bureaucratic way. “A lot has happened, but the progress is fragile when you look at the misanthropy that still exists in society.”

More reported homosexual and transphobic Offenses

Although Paragraph 175 has been abolished for 30 years, homophobia continues to exist in Germany. Härpfer and Hutter independently report hostility in everyday life – sometimes direct, sometimes more inconspicuous. They are concerned that homophobia and transphobia are still a major problem and the visible number of cases is increasing.

According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, the number of crimes recorded by the police was more than 1,000 in 2022. Ten years earlier, the number was 186. In the area of ​​”gender-related diversity”, 417 cases were reported to the Federal Criminal Police Office (2021: 340 cases).

At the same time, Hutter sees a positive development in the increasing numbers: more and more cases are being investigated and solved by the police. The structures that have been created also mean that those affected are more likely to dare to report such incidents.

Demand for Amendment to the Basic Law

30 years after the criminalization of male homosexuality ended in Germany, Georg Härpfer is calling for another change to the law – and a fundamental one at that: The Basic Law should explicitly state that people must not be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual identity. Article 3 currently stipulates, among other things, that no one may be discriminated against on the basis of their gender, race or disability. The extension would protect, for example, the law on marriage for all or the rehabilitation law for men convicted under Section 175.

Looking ahead to the next 30 years, Härpfer hopes that it will no longer matter who you live with. “That everyone can live their life without worries and without fears, that is my wish.”

With information from Uwe Jahn, ARD Capital Studio.

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