A Clash of Family Values

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When Edmund Stoiber chose Katherina Reiche as his family expert for the election campaign, reaction from social conservatives was swift and critical. Guests on a Bavarian talk show, upset that Reiche has two children without being married, described her as "with brats and without wedding ring." An indignant Joachim Meisner, the Roman Catholic Cardinal of Cologne, said Stoiber's Christian Social Union and its Christian Democratic Union partner should drop "Christian" from their names. And the antiabortion group Christian Democrats for Life attacked Reiche for supporting the use of stem cells in medical research. Said its chairwoman, Johanna von Westfalen: "I cannot see how such a questionable attitude towards the right to life can result in a competent policy for family and women."

Reiche, 29, is used to being a conservative who makes conservatives scream. The most controversial member of Stoiber's shadow cabinet, which is otherwise mostly male and over 40, she professes no ill will toward her critics. "I understand these people," she says. "A different lifestyle is a provocation. But you cannot literally translate the Bible into a political program." By hiring Reiche, Stoiber has burnished his image with women and young voters. He says he stands for "a policy which is based on firm morals but still takes into consideration real life."

Reiche has a lot of qualities Stoiber needs right now. Aside from being young and female, she's an eastern German and a Lutheran just about everything Stoiber, a Catholic from Bavaria, isn't. The daughter of entrepreneurs in the small town of Luckenwalde, Reiche studied chemistry in Germany, Finland and the U.S. An ardent admirer of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, she joined the Christian Democrats and was elected to parliament in 1998 at age 25. Late last month, with the campaign in full swing, she gave birth to a daughter fathered by her live-in companion Sven Pettke, a CDU state politician. The couple also has a three-year-old daughter. "I come from a generation where it is natural for both men and women to want to have equal chances within the family and within a profession," Reiche says.

Earlier this year, as spokeswoman on genetics in the Christian Democratic parliamentary group, Reiche touched off a dispute when, unlike most other party members, she backed a law permitting research on imported human stem cells. "This is about creating the possibility to heal sick people," she said. Though not married, Reiche has adopted strong positions on family questions. She opposed a 2001 law favoring homosexual marriage, calling it an "attack on marriage and the family." Reiche says she will eventually marry but won't let politics interfere in her decision. Neither will family stop her career. She has bought a baby cot and takes her newborn on the campaign trail. She'll bring the infant to parliament if her party loses, or to the Ministry for Family, Youth and Women if it wins no doubt making some conservatives scream wherever she goes.