France rejects lesbian couple's bid to marry

28th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

France maintained its ban on gay marriage on Friday after the constitutional court ruled that a lesbian couple with four children do not have the right to tie the knot.

The couple, a teacher and a paediatrician who have lived together for 15 years, had sought to bring France into line with EU neighbours like Spain, Belgium and Netherlands which allow same-sex couples to wed.

The ruling came as a TNS Sofres opinion poll said Friday that 58 percent of French people questioned were in favour of gay marriage, which is legal in ten countries around the world.

The court rejected the couple's argument that two articles in the French civil code which state that marriage can only be between a man and a woman were unconstitutional and discriminated against homosexuals.

But it said it was up to parliament to decide if the ban should be overturned, and not the constitutional authority.

The couple, Corinne Cestino and Sophie Hasslauer, currently enjoy tax benefits and other financial advantages because they are in the legally recognised civil partnership known here by its acronym PACS.

But they say they should be entitled to further benefits that marriage would bring.

"Marriage is the only solution in terms of protecting our children, sharing parental authority, settling inheritance problems and eventual custody if one of us were to die," they told AFP before the ruling.

"It's scandalous," Hasslauer said after the court decision, slamming a "minority attitude" in French society belonging to "a backward and outdated elite."

Gay rights activists also slammed Friday's decision.

"The constitutional court has missed an historic opportunity to put an end to discrimination that has become intolerable for more than three million gay and lesbians in France," said Caroline Mecary, a lawyer for gay rights groups.

She said gay activists were now hoping that next year's presidential and parliamentary elections would see the rightwing President Nicolas Sarkozy ousted and bring into power the Socialists, who are in favour of gay marriage.

Friday's court decision said it was up to politicians to take up the issue.

On the question of whether gay couples were being discriminated against because the law treated them differently to heterosexuals, it said "it is not up to the constitutional court to substitute its assessment for that of legislators."

The lesbian couple's lawyers hope the decision will now encourage lawmakers to draw up a parliamentary bill recognising homosexual marriage.

The opposition socialist leader in parliament, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said his party would introduce such a bill, but the measure has little chance of success, as the right-wing governing UMP party is against it.

The couple's lawyer Emmanuel Ludot said his clients would "continue their legal battle through other means," without saying what these means were.

The National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED) estimated in a 2009 study that up to 40,000 children lived with gay parents in France.

France legalised same-sex civil unions in 1999 but the arrangement grants fewer rights than marriage.

Ten countries around the world have so far authorised marriages between people of the same sex, including South Africa, Argentina and Portugal.

Two countries allow gay marriage on part of their territory: the United States -- the states of Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and the capital Washington DC -- and Mexico in the federal capital.

Other countries have adopted legislation on civil partnerships, notably Denmark, France, Germany, Finland, New Zealand, Britain, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Uruguay and Colombia.

© 2011 AFP

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