BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved legislation that would provide compensation to gay servicepeople who experienced discrimination in the military before a change of policy 20 years ago.
The decision comes two months after Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer issued an apology for decades of discrimination. A study commissioned by her ministry documented “systematic discrimination” in the Bundeswehr — the military of West Germany and since 1990 of reunited Germany — from 1955 until 2000.
The study said that “same-sex orientation was viewed as a security risk in the Bundeswehr until the turn of the millennium and made a career as an officer or noncommissioned officer impossible.”
Kramp-Karrenbauer said that soldiers affected will be “rehabilitated” under the new legislation.
The legislation foresees the lifting of military court verdicts imposed for consensual gay sex, with 3,000 euros ($3,560) in compensation being paid for each of those verdicts, but also to soldiers who were dismissed, denied promotion or stripped of responsibility. The Defense Ministry estimates that about 1,000 people will apply, news agency dpa reported.
“I know that we can’t make up for the personal injustice they suffered but, with the lifting of verdicts and the payment of lump-sum compensation, we want to send a signal — a small signal — of redress, to restore the dignity of these people who wanted nothing other than to serve Germany,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said.
It is Germany’s latest move to address past anti-gay discrimination. In 2017, parliament voted to annul the convictions of thousands of gay men under a law criminalizing male homosexuality that was enforced zealously in post-World War II West Germany.
A federal court decided in 1970 that homosexuality was no longer a disciplinary offense for soldiers unless there was a “service connection,” the study released in September said. That was interpreted strictly to start with and gradually loosened.
Then-Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping ended official discrimination in 2000 after an officer who had been removed from his post as a commander took his case to Germany’s highest court.
Scharping issued a paper stating that “homosexuality does not constitute grounds for restrictions in terms of assignment or status and thus also is not a suitability criterion to be examined separately.”
Kramp-Karrenbauer said the new legislation will also cover people who experienced discrimination in communist East Germany’s National People’s Army, which she called “an important signal” in a year when Germany marked 30 years of reunification.
It still requires parliamentary approval. Kramp-Karrenbauer told lawmakers she hoped for their support “so that we can rehabilitate and compensate those affected next year.”
Legislation criminalizing male homosexuality was introduced in the 19th century, toughened under Nazi rule and retained in that form by democratic West Germany, which convicted some 50,000 men between 1949 and 1969. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969 but the legislation wasn’t taken off the books entirely until 1994.
Lawmakers approved compensation for men who were convicted. Payments were later extended to people who were put under investigation or taken into investigative custody but not convicted.