Angela Merkel has opened the way for gay marriage to be legalised in Germany after she called for a free vote in parliament on the issue.
The surprise announcement represents a major U-turn for the German chancellor, who has previously opposed gay marriage, citing concerns for children.
A vote could now be held as soon as next week. A majority of MPs are believed to be in favour of legalisation.
Mrs Merkel described her change of heart in terms of a Damascene conversion. She spoke of a “life-changing experience” when she met a lesbian couple in her parliamentary constituency who have adopted eight children.
But sceptics suggested the timing may also have something to do with the coming German elections in September. Mrs Merkel’s chief rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD) have pledged to legalise gay marriage, and opinion polls show more than 80 per cent of Germans are in favour.
While civil partnerships have been available to homosexual couples in Germany since 2001, gay marriages are not recognised by the state.
Opposition from the conservative wing of Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrat party (CDU) has been the main roadblock to legalisation