In July, 2006, the German Federal Parliament passed the General Equal Treatment Act (GETA), which seeks to provide legal protection against discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual identity, religion, age, and disability.
The passage of the GETA (commonly referred to as the “anti-discrimination law”) can be seen as a key moment in the development of anti-discrimination policy in Germany. It integrates all the anti-discrimination requirements already contained in the Basic Law of the German constitution and the German Works Constitution Act and broadens them to include the categories of age and sexual orientation.
An attempt to pass an anti-discrimination act in the Federal Republic of Germany had already been made by the Green Party in 1986. However, the draft of this law contained a one-dimensional understanding of discrimination which was restricted to the category of gender. With the passage of the GETA twenty years later, a law for the first time went into force that integrated a range of definitions of discrimination and that applied in the spheres of both labor and civil law. In 2000 the EU had issued four mandatory anti-discrimination guidelines to its member states. With its passage of the GETA on August 17, 2006, Germany was the penultimate EU member to implement these changes.
The GETA names six grounds of discrimination, each of which can lead to concrete disadvantages: gender, race or “ethnic origin”, religion or worldview, “disability”, age and sexual identity. The terms race (“Rasse”), ethnic origin, and disability emerge nonetheless as problematic in the German context, based as they are on the notion that these are properties which people possess, rather than being generated and ascribed socially as a means of exclusion. Thus in the case of “race” the formulation “racist discrimination” has been suggested.
One may ultimately conclude that the GETA has opened up new avenues by which people are able to protect themselves legally against discrimination. In order to do so, however, victims of discrimination must themselves take action. The question remains as to the degree of awareness of this legislation across German society and who is in a position to make use of it.