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.