French gay marriage plan revives gay rights debate

April 26, 2004

No�l Mam�re
Photo - AFP
PARIS — Plans by a French mayor to celebrate a gay marriage in his town hall next June, and the possibility it will be declared legally void, have revived debate on the rights of homosexuals in France.

The ceremony "will take place in the conditions and with the obligations of the civil code", Noel Mamere, mayor of the southwestern town of Begles, near Bordeaux, and a Green member of parliament, said.

According to Mamere, Article 144 of the civil code does not stipulate that marriage is prohibited between people of the same sex.

"If this marriage is declared void, the case will be taken to the European Court of Human Rights," he said. He argued that the court "says very clearly that basic texts must adapt to the social evolution of societies."

Mamere is backing same-sex marriages in the name of equal rights and the struggle against discrimination as well as on legal grounds and two other local politicians are ready to follow his example.

"People opposed to gay marriage are in general also against the adoption of children by homosexual couples," said Communist Clementine Autain

"Beyond this issue, which can seem secondary, we are defending equal rights."

"Elsewhere, in Belgium, Quebec, soon Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands, it has become a non-subject," said Christophe Girard, a deputy to the Socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe.

But Delanoe, himself a homosexual, argues that "we are not going to settle the problem by organising three high-profile gay marriages."

As long as there is a "legal void" he will not become involved and argues that marriage "is a little bit less urgent than the question of parenting."

An association representing gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transexuals, which organises gay pride activities, does not put the call for gay marriage at the top of its list of demands.

"All debate is healthy," said spokesman Alain Piriou but priority should go to cleaning up the law relating to discrimination.

"On the ground people are suffering not because they cannot get married but because of homophobia and the way they are viewed." Jean-Luc Romero, a senior member of President Jacques Chirac's Conservative UMP party and president of a homosexual defence group, said Mamere's plan was a "political initiative" and believed that an "illegal marriage" would damage the homosexual cause by sparking a controversy.

In any case, he said, "the government has moved on these issues and indeed in June new measures will be debated, in particular punishing homophobic statements" and the creation of a high authority on discrimination.

"French opinion is evolving but you won't move things forward by forcing it."

Strong opposition has already been voiced to the idea of gay marriage with Philippe de Villiers, head of the conservative and traditionalist Movement for France, describing it as "a libertarian provocation" and "a parody."

None of the articles in the civil code on "the qualities and conditions necessary for the possibility of contracting a marriage" or "the formalities relating to the celebration of marriage" or "opposition to marriage" or "demands for nullification" stipulates that the partners must be of different sexes.

But Article 75 of the code lays down that during the marriage ceremony the presiding officer "shall receive from each party, one after the other, the declaration that they wish to take each other as man and wife."

Article 175-1 says the state prosecutor can register opposition to a marriage before it takes place or demand that it be declared void retrospectively.

Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights lays down that "from the legal age of marriage men and women have the right to marry and found a family in accordance with national laws governing the exercise of this right."

Court judgements in 1986 and 1990 have interpreted this article as referring to two people of different biological sexes. – Sapa-AFP

Related stories
France close to first-ever gay marriage [23/04/04]



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