Karl Kreile (2nd left) and Bodo Mende (3rd left) are the first gay couple to legally marry in Germany / Image via Getty

In June Germany became the 15th European country to grant same-sex couples the right to marriage. On October 1 the law officially went into effect and Karl Kreile and Bodo Mende, who met 38 years ago, became the first gay couple to legally marry in the country.

“This is an emotional moment with great symbolism,” Kreile told The New York Times. “The transition to the term ‘marriage’ shows that the German state recognizes us as real equals.”

After trying to marry in 1992 Kreile and Mende were reportedly turned away at the registry office and ten years later opted for a registered partnership, which was legal under German law. But these unions offered far fewer rights than those given to heterosexual married couples. Now, under the new law, gay German married couples gain full legal rights to adopt children together. Before the law, those in a partnership could only adopt a child that their registered partner had already adopted (or was their partner’s biological child.)

The delayed legalization of gay marriage in Germany was largely due to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s resistance. In June Merkel offered softer views on same-sex marriage and said she was more open to German lawmakers voting based on their individual beliefs, though she herself voted against it when the German parliament finally voted to legalize it.