BERLIN -- The leader of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party on Wednesday rejected criticism over a Carnival speech in which she was perceived as poking fun at intersex people.
Political opponents have called on Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who leads Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, to apologize for a speech during a Carnival event in southwestern Germany last week.
During that event, Kramp-Karrenbauer — dressed in Carnival costume — asked the audience to "look at the men of today" and made fun of people in Berlin who she said were introducing "toilets for the third sex."
"That is for men who don't know whether they can still stand to pee or have to sit," she added.
At a party rally Wednesday in the northeastern town of Demmin, Kramp-Karrenbauer said critics should have considered the Carnival context of her comments, which were about the "emasculation of the CDU." She is the second consecutive female leader of a previously male-dominated center-right party.
"That some of our political opponents, unfortunately including our coalition partner, are making an issue of it shows how bad their situation must be," Kramp-Karrenbauer said.
"I can only say that if we carry on like this, we will run the risk of ruining something really wonderful in our country — the tradition of Carnival ... where you don't have to weigh every word," she added.
Kramp-Karrenbauer took over as CDU leader in December and is considered the front-runner to succeed Merkel as chancellor after she steps down, which is expected by 2021. She is a touch more socially conservative than Merkel and was an opponent of legalizing same-sex marriage, which Germany did in 2017.
Critics in recent days have included the center-left Social Democrats, the CDU's partners in a fractious governing coalition. The party's general secretary, Lars Klingbeil, said the comments showed that an "archconservative wind is blowing" in the CDU and that "such comments, even during Carnival, are absolutely lacking in respect."
Germany recently introduced rules allowing intersex people to officially register as "diverse." That came after the country's highest court ruled that people must be allowed to register as neither male nor female, ordering authorities to create a third identity or scrap gender entries altogether.