In other news: Schumacher revealed to be fast driver

Picking up a riff from the gutter-press Bild-Zeitung, the Spiegel* discusses the coming-out of Guido Westerwelle, leader of the Free Democrats. (As a technical matter, this seems in fact to have been more an outing by the press, with the close and willing cooperation of the outee.)

Abiola Lapite waxes indignant at Bild‘s front-page story and photo (‘Westerwelle Loves This Man!‘). It’s sordid, of course; titillation for the nosey, as Abiola rightly classifies it. But then, sordidness is Bild‘s stock-in-trade. Even ‘Sunny weather tomorrow‘ takes on a sordid air, when it appears in Bild.

The thing is, though, Westerwelle’s homosexuality was surely the least-secret ‘secret’ in Germany. Though he hadn’t previously ‘officially’ admitted he is gay, nor did Westerwelle do anything to hide the fact. His gayness might sometimes have provided fodder for jokes in Titanic or on the late and lamented Harald Schmidt show (a blatant rip-off of Letterman that was often better than the original). But so far as I know, nobody ever made an issue of it.

Part of the reason is that the one group you’d expect to make an issue of it–the right-wing CDU and, especially, their very right-wing Bavarian sister-party the CSU–have in recent years been close partners of the FDP. They’re unlikely to mount a gaybashing campaign against the man who leads a party with which they hope to be in coalition after the next national elections.

But politics isn’t all, not even for the Union. This simply isn’t the issue it would be in the United States, or even in Britain (think of poor Michael Portillo, done out of the Tory leadership because he’d batted for the other team a few times as a student). I’m certain Germany has its share of homophobes, and doubtless the Roman Catholic hierarchy is not amused. Still, most Germans seem to view a politician’s sexual orientation much as they’d view his or her extramarital affairs, if any: if it doesn’t interfere in the doing of one’s job, then it’s not anybody else’s business. And that holds true even in the ‘family-values’ conservative ranks of the Union: it’s pretty widely understood that Ole von Beust, Hamburg’s CDU mayor (and thus head of government of a Land, with a voice in the upper house of the federal legislature), is gay. His career has hardly suffered as a result–on the contrary, he is one of the Union’s rising stars.

It’s good that Westerwelle is confident enough to come out. And it’s good that Germans aren’t going to judge him on his sexuality. But really, this is essentially a non-story; and that’s the best thing of all.

* Article in German.

7 thoughts on “In other news: Schumacher revealed to be fast driver

  1. Not just von Beust, but Klaus Wowereit, mayor of Berlin and thus also head of a state government. As I heard the story, Wowereit got wind that Bild was going to out him, so he did it pre-emptively at a trade union conference. The old-line SPD guy had previously thought of Wowereit as a pretty dull and bloodless technocrat. When he ended his speech by saying, “By the way, I’m gay, and that’s a good thing,” they were first stunned and then roared their approval. He’s interesting! He’s got guts! Hurrah!

    “And that’s a good thing” (und das ist gut so) became a national catch-phrase for a while.

    Germans really don’t care who their politicians are sleeping with. Und das ist gut so.

  2. Aber endlich, Guido!

    The homosexuality of Ole von Beust (Conservative Mayor of Hamburg) is no state secret either although he maintains a respectful no comment on the matter. It probably helped him win the state elections earlier this year, with socially liberal (and especially gay socially liberal) former red/green voters backing him after the obnoxious antics of Judge Dredd.

  3. Ah, yes, there’s Wowereit too, of course. Though I’d mentioned him in my comment on Abiola’s site, I didn’t here. After all, what else would one expect from the godless bolshevik Sozis, gell. That the Christian Democratic Union, by contrast, should also have a prominent and de-facto out politician, might strike one as really being news. But not even that is news (und das, as you note, ist gut so.)

    (BTW, if George Bush is annoyed at rude puns about his name, he should walk a mile in Wowereit’s shoes.)

  4. I’m getting bored with scrolling to the bottom of your sidebar to read posts. The column defined for your posts needs a float right or right align tag somewhere

  5. Alright, time for another shocking revelation: Rainer Bruederle, one of Westerwelles deputy leader’s of the Free Democrats in the Bundestag and former economics minister of Rhineland-Palatinate, often uses the S-Bahn *public transport* from Frankfurt main station to Mainz main station. I’m not kidding, people. Yesterday, I met him on the train and asked him about this disturbing habit. He did not even attempt to deny the alligation. All he said was that it’s safer and faster than going by car. Will these people ever stop? Sometimes I really have a hard time to understand liberal lifestyles… 😉

  6. Actually, come to think of it, there is a little politics in this. Given that Muslim countries are now far more important than previously, Westerwelle’s outing could become an obstacle for his ambitions to become foreign minister in a CDU/CSU/FDP coalition, should the SPD/Green coalition lose the next general election. There’s at least one example for minsterial sexuality becoming an international issue: in early 2002 the Malaysian prime minister Mahatir (a friend of tough wording) threatened to expel the British Junior Foreign Minister Ben Bradshaw, who is openly gay, should he visit Malaysia with his partner. While the Foreign Office obviously rebuked Mr Mahatir, Mr Bradshaw lost his foreign office portfolio (including international terrorism and much of the Muslim world) in Tony Blair’s May 2002 cabinet reshuffle without any serious an explanation. Mr Bradshaw then became deputy leader of the house, a formal, not political promotion.

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