French mayor risks suspension over gay wedding

4th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

BEGLES, France, June 4 (AFP) - A French mayor has vowed to proceed with the country's first gay wedding Saturday despite government threats that he will be punished legally and the marriage immediately declared invalid.

BEGLES, France, June 4 (AFP) - A French mayor has vowed to proceed with the country's first gay wedding Saturday despite government threats that he will be punished legally and the marriage immediately declared invalid.

Noel Mamere, mayor in the Begles suburb of the southwestern city of Bordeaux and a leading figure in the opposition Greens party, has defiantly said he will celebrate the marriage between two men, a shopworker and a nurse, regardless of pressure from the centre-right government.

The issue has whipped up a blaze of publicity around Mamere, a former television presenter, and unsettled authorities determined to keep gay partnerships restricted to a civil contract that took effect in 1999 and known as PACS, which gives some but not all the rights of a marriage.

The interior ministry has even supplied the generally calm Mamere with a squad of bodyguards, given the tension over the issue, Le Monde newspaper reported.

The controversay triggered by a sudden rush of gay marriages in some US cities this year has brought international media attention on the case here.

"I am maintaining, based on my current information, my decision to proceed with this wedding on June 5," Mamere told journalists late Thursday.

He spoke after receiving a letter from Bordeaux state prosecutor, Bertrand de Loze, saying the wedding could not go ahead because the Begles address given by the homosexual celebrants, Jean-Luc Charpentier and Stephane Chapin, was deemed not genuine.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin sharpened his government's tone against Mamere, warning: "If such a ceremony takes place, it cannot be called a marriage. It would be an illegal ceremony, null and void under the law."

He added that "any elected official who does not respect the law in this matter... will be exposed to the sanctions provided for by law."

Punishment could include suspending Mamere as mayor and a fine of EUR 1,500 (USD 1,800) for not following proper marriage procedures.Raffarin, President Jacques 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".

Mamere and the couple he is to wed argue for a wider interpretation of the law and say that, in any case, France must adapt to the social reality of gay unions.

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

After the contested wedding Saturday, Bordeaux is to host its annual Gay Pride march.

The looming confrontation generated front-page stories in French newspapers on Friday, rivalling coverage of preparations for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France.

The left-leaning Liberation daily foreshadowed Saturday's wedding ceremony by calling it "D-Day for gays".

Le Monde reflected that the institution of marriage has changed so much in the West that the challenge was to chart a course between marriage as a historic symbol of social stability and its promise of love and happiness for all couples, regardless of orientation.

Though many politicians have come forth with their opinions, there was no clear consensus.

The head of the main opposition party, Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande, said he supported legalising gay marriage but his predecessor, former prime minister and one-time presidential candidate Lionel Jospin, has expressed strong opposition.

A Greens councillor in Paris City Hall, Christophe Girard, who works for the capital's openly gay mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, said: "France's European neighbours who have already given legal rights to all couples must be smiling to see this country suddenly up in arms at the thought of a homosexual marriage."

The Netherlands and Belgium are the only European countries that currently allow same-sex civil marriages.


Subject: French news


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