BERLIN (AP) – German lawmakers expanded the rights of same-sex couples Friday, allowing registered domestic partners to adopt each other’s children and making rules on splitting up and alimony similar to those for heterosexual marriages.

Parliament’s lower house passed the changes drafted by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s center-left government over the objections of opposition conservatives.

“This is a good day for gays and lesbians,” Green Party lawmaker Volker Beck told his colleagues. “We are making another step on the long road to equal rights.”

The new law stops short of giving homosexuals, who are legally recognized as couples under Germany’s domestic partnership law, full rights to adopt children. But if one partner has children or brings them into the partnership, the other partner can now legally adopt them if neither parent objects.

Before registering their partnership, gay couples will be able to get engaged as heterosexuals do, a step granting certain legal rights in Germany, such as the right not to testify against one’s partner in court.

Laws on separation, divorce, alimony and division of assets also are being extended to gay couples.

Although Germany does not permit gay marriage, about 5,000 gay couples have registered domestic partnerships under a law supported by Schroeder’s government that took effect Aug. 1, 2001.

Many in Germany’s main opposition Christian Democratic bloc remain bitterly opposed to granting gay couples the same rights as married heterosexuals.

The opposition’s main reason for voting against the changes was a fear that they opened the door to giving gay couples full adoption rights, Christian Democratic lawmaker Daniela Raab said Friday.

The new adoption law “is an ideological aberration and shows a completely wrong understanding of values,” said Christean Wagner, the justice minister of conservative-ruled Hesse state.

He argued it goes against the spirit of Germany’s 1949 constitution, whose aim he said was to promote marriage and children.

Beck, a prominent gay activist, argued that greater rights for homosexuals were in line with constitutional equal rights guarantees.

“Western civilization has not collapsed,” he said. “It’s simply that gays and lesbians now have more rights in this society.”

AP-ES-10-29-04 1629EDT

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