BERLIN (NYTIMES) - Cheers rang out in the City Hall of Berlin's Schöneberg district on Sunday (Oct 1) as two men, who met 38 years ago, when the German capital was a divided city, became the country's first same-sex couple to legally marry.
The couple, Mr Bodo Mende, 60, and Mr Karl Kreile, 59, were wed in a civil ceremony, surrounded by a crush of photographers and television cameras eager to capture the historic moment.
Not even the crying of a child among the relatives and friends who attended the event interrupted their joy as the couple exchanged a long kiss after they were pronounced husband and husband.
"This is an emotional moment with great symbolism," Mr Kreile told reporters before the event. "The transition to the term 'marriage' shows that the German state recognises us as real equals."
In June, Germany became the 15th European country to grant same-sex couples the right to marry, after a swift vote in Parliament that followed a brief but emotional debate.
A previous German law had allowed civil unions between same-sex couples since 2001, but those unions did not offer couples the same legal rights and were considered by many to be a second-class form of marriage.
Across the country, city halls that are normally closed on the weekend opened their doors to allow marriages on the first day the law took effect. Dozens of couples were expected to exchange vows in Berlin, as well as in Cologne, Hamburg, Hanover and Kiel on Sunday and the days beyond.
Mr Gordon Holland, a registrar in Schöneberg, said, "We're making a single exception to fire a symbolic starter pistol because same-sex marriages are possible from today," according to The Associated Press.
"Marriage equality is a milestone for a modern society," Mr Heiko Maas, Germany's Justice Minister, wrote on Twitter. "Thanks to everyone who fought so long for this. Today is your day."
Conservatives, including the Roman Catholic Church, remain opposed to allowing same-sex couples to marry.
The head of the German Bishop's Conference expressed his "regret" that the country had "abandoned the essential meaning of marriage" at the time the law passed Parliament.