First French gay marriage causes political uproar

Siegfried Mortkowitz | June 04, 2004

PARIS — The imminent first-ever marriage in France between two people of the same sex has provoked a political war in this usually sophisticated nation.

Shortly before noon on Saturday, 34-year-old Stephane Chapin will marry his companion, Bertrand Charpentier, 31, in the charming town of Begles, near Bordeaux.

The marriage has so upset France's centre-right government that both Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Justice Minister Dominique Perben have threatened to remove from office Begles Mayor Noel Mamere, who will perform the ceremony.

Saying that French law does "not permit nor authorise the marriage of two people of the same sex", Raffarin threatened on Wednesday that "any elected official who does not respect the law in this context ... will incur the punishment prescribed by law".

On Thursday, Perben specified the punishment. If he goes ahead with the marriage, Mamere will be liable to "legal or civil penalties or administrative penalties, especially his suspension as mayor".

The 55-year-old Mamere, an outspoken member of the Green Party, immediately characterized the government's threats against him as "a load of hooey".

"It is not up to Monsieur Raffarin to say if I have respected the law or not," he went on. "It is up to a judge after a debate between opposing parties in front of a tribunal."

He then declared, "Of course, I will perform this marriage." The debate about homosexual marriage has been raging in France since April, when Mamere first announced that he would marry the two men.

At the time, President Jacques Chirac interrupted a press conference on the enlargement of the European Union to declare, "The law ... does not permit marriages between two men or two women. That's how it is, it is the law, and there is no question of altering it."

The issue is so sensitive here that it has divided even Mamere's left-wing political allies, the Socialists.

As party leaders struggled to define a common position, they were stunned by former prime minister Lionel Jospin, who declared, "In principle and as an institution, marriage is the union of a man and a woman."

This followed statements by two leading Socialist candidates for the 2007 presidential elections, former prime minister Laurent Fabius and former finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, in favour of homosexual marriage.

The issue has also split the French public, with only a small majority in favour of gay marriages but a large majority speaking out against the right of homosexuals to adopt children.

Lost in the political uproar is the couple itself. Chapin, a nursing auxiliary, and Charpentier, a storekeeper, say all they want is to be "a normal couple".

Overwhelmed by the uproar, they have nevertheless said that if the state annulled Saturday's marriage, they were prepared to take their case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.

Asked why they wanted to get married, they replied, "Because we love each other." – Sapa-dpa

Related stories
French PM vows to punish mayor if gay marriage goes ahead [03/06/2004]



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