French gay marriage row intensifies

May 28, 2004

BORDEAUX France — The row over France's first gay marriage intensified Thursday after the state prosecutor in the southwestern city of Bordeaux said the ceremony which is due on June 5 will be illegal.

Bertrand de Loze gave formal notice that the marriage will be declared null and void a day after the bans for the wedding of shopworker Jean-Luc Charpentier and nurse Stephane Chapin were posted at the townhall of the suburb of Begles.

The mayor of Begles, Green party deputy and former television presenter Noel Mamere, stirred up nationwide debate last month when he declared his intention to celebrate the country's first homosexual marriage – forcing politicians and religious leaders to formulate a response.

Loze sent a fax to Mamere warning that "as a functionary of the civil state, you are forbidden to celebrate the marriage which has been announced.... It is important that as a person in whom public authority is vested you abstain from any initiative that will lead to a breach of the law."

However Mamere insisted Thursday that he would see his plans through to their conclusion. "The initiative is a political one," he said, arguing that the law needed to change to take account of society's growing demands for equality.

The prosecutor took his cue from Dominique Perben, justice minister in the centre-right government, who has said that French law required officiating mayors to verify that couples to be married were indeed a man and a woman.

"Any official who carried out a homosexual marriage would be committing a fault, an irregularity. The marriage would be invalid," Perben said.

Mamere has been attacked by conservative politicians for seeking to stage a publicity coup, and his initiative has divided the left – with Socialist party leader Francois Hollande supporting plans to legalise gay marriage but former prime minister Lionel Jospin coming out strongly opposed.

President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin both said they are against gay weddings, but instead proposed further strengthening the civil contract known as the PACS which was introduced in 1998 to give more rights to cohabiting couples.

One of the arguments used by Chirac's party the Union for a Popular Movement against Mamere's initiative is that when the Socialists introduced the PACS against strong oppposition from pro-family groups they argued that it would obviate calls for full-scale gay marriage.

The president of the French conference of bishops Jean-Pierre Ricard said that homosexual unions could not be equated with those between a man and a woman because they were devoid of any notion of procreation.

"If our society gives so much importance to marriage between man and woman, it is not just to recognise the constitution of a couple... but because marriage also ensures the renewal of generations," he wrote in a diocesan magazine.

Jean-Luc Charpentier and Stephane Chapin have left Begles because of the media attention, and are staying with a friend in Marseille. They told a local newspaper Thursday they were not surprised by the prosecutor's decision and were determined to proceed with the wedding.

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

The mayor of the town of Marseille near the Mediterranean coast has said he will celebrate a gay marriage on June 19, Liberation newspaper reported Thursday, and a handful of other mayors have declared themselves willing in principle. – Sapa-AFP

Related stories
French prosecutor moves to block gay marriage [27/05/2004]



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