BERLIN Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition agreed on Wednesday to make small changes to same-sex civil partnership rules but staunch opposition from conservatives in her party means Germany will not follow Ireland in allowing gay marriages any time soon.
Although there are growing divisions within the party, Merkel's Christian Democrats are still overwhelmingly opposed to same-sex marriages partly due to fears it could upset voters on the right.
However, polls show 75 percent of Germans are in favour of legalising gay marriages, as are the Social Democrats (SPD) and all opposition parties.
Merkel's cabinet gave same-sex couples more rights but this move was dismissed by critics as inadequate for a country that in 2001 became one of Europe's first to allow registered civil partnerships.
Justice Minister Heiko Maas, of the SPD, sounded disappointed that Germany could not take a bigger leap.
"Expanding rights for registered partnerships is another step toward giving same-sex unions the same rights as marriages," said Maas. "We haven't reached the goal yet."
Maas blamed resistance on the right in Merkel's party. "Unfortunately that wasn't possible with the conservatives."
The overwhelming "yes" vote in Ireland for same-sex marriage had triggered a discussion in Germany about the lingering gap in rights between registered partnerships and marriages.
"Today was an important milestone in dismantling discrimination and the chancellor is pleased about that," her spokesman Steffen Seibert said. "But same-sex marriages are not a goal of this government."
The political logjam over this issue is typical of Merkel's grand coalition, which has been unable to enact reforms that go beyond the letter of their 2013 contract.
"This government isn't capable of spontaneous reforms and is unable to move with the times," said Thomas Jaeger, political scientist at Cologne University. "These are two big parties in the way of each other that don't have the courage to tackle anything not agreed on in advance in their coalition agreement."
Once proud that their country was among the first in Europe to allow registered partnerships under the centre-left SPD-Greens government, many were perplexed Germany is now a laggard.
"Every country makes its own laws - some countries go one route while others go another," said Seibert, when asked about Ireland. "In Germany we'll take a path that suits Germany."
(Writing by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)