French mayor holds gay marriage

7th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

BEGLES, France, June 5 (AFP) - A shopkeeper and a male nurse exchanged rings and kisses in France's first gay wedding Saturday, but the conservative government immediately moved to annul what it considered an illegal ceremony and punish the mayor who carried it out.

BEGLES, France, June 5 (AFP) - A shopkeeper and a male nurse exchanged rings and kisses in France's first gay wedding Saturday, but the conservative government immediately moved to annul what it considered an illegal ceremony and punish the mayor who carried it out.

Noel Mamere, mayor of the Bordeaux suburb of Begles and a leading figure in the opposition Greens party, celebrated the wedding of 31-year-old Bertrand Charpentier and 34-year-old Stephane Chapin in a blaze of publicity at the municipal building where he works.

"I'm proud of this wedding.... I don't consider myself an outlaw," Mamere told the couple, who arrived at the building in a brown Rolls-Royce to applause from gay rights supporters, while dozens of opponents held a small protest nearby and 200 police kept watch.

"Our wedding is a first. I hope many more will follow," he said.Charpentier, wearing a grey suit and cream shirt over his ample frame, and Chapin, in a trim white suit, said their vows in front of Mamere before exiting to a rain of rice and camera flashes.

Smiling broadly, they kissed several times and posed for photographs for a crowd of journalists and well-wishers.

The government quickly made good on its longstanding threat to block the marriage and punish Mamere.

"I have started a sanctions procedure against the mayor of Begles," Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin told journalists in Paris shortly after the wedding ended.

Mamere, he said, "decided, in contradiction with the rules of the civil code ... to celebrate a marriage between two people of the same sex" despite a warning from Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin this week that the ceremony would be "illegal" and thus invalid.

"I intend to make sure the law of the republic and the authority of the state are respected," De Villepin said.

Late in the day, regional officials said they had launched a procedure to suspend Mamere for up to a month, giving him until June 12 to explain himself either in person or in writing.

Interior ministry officials had said Mamere faced suspension, or could have been sacked from his post with no possibility of recovering it for a year.Justice Minister Dominique Perben ordered that a request declaring the marriage invalid be lodged with a court in Bordeaux "immediately" and called for a judicial inquiry into the entire matter.

The state prosecutor in Bordeaux, Bertrand de Loze, said he would on Monday begin legal proceedings against Charpentier and Chapin after verifying that the marriage had been recorded in Begles's municipal records.Mamere responded by telling AFP that the government was "making a mistake" by going after him.

"There are many things worse for society than a wedding of two people who love each other. If they want to start legal action, they'll have to prove that I committed errors. Today, I am happy, I am not worried at all. I am defending a just cause," he said.

The centre-right government of President Jacques Chirac is determined to keep gay partnerships restricted to a French civil contract known as PACS that took effect in 1999, which confers some but not all the rights of a marriage.Raffarin, Chirac and other officials have interpreted French law to say that a marriage must exclusively be between a man and a woman.

The relevant text - article 75 of the country's Civil Code - is less precise, saying that a mayor "will receive a declaration from each party that they want to take each other for husband and wife".

Charpentier and Chapin have said they will take their case to the European Court of Human Rights if the marriage is rendered void.

"We want to show people who are trying to stop us that we love each other and we will fight right to the end," Chapin said after the ceremony.

"We're not symbols - but we know that this is important," Charpentier added.

Belgium and the Netherlands are currently the only two countries in Europe that recognise same-sex marriages.

The decision by Mamere, a former television anchor, to go ahead with Saturday's ceremony was the focus of intense media attention in France.

Foreign journalists, too, have been following the matter, which comes after the controversy triggered by a sudden rush of gay marriages in some US cities earlier this year.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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