French demonstrators celebrate gay pride as mayor holds gay wedding

June 07, 2004

Gay militants kiss each other in front of Paris townhall to support Begles' mayor, Noel Mamere, who was at the same time celebrating the wedding of two gay men in his southwestern town 05 June 2004
MONTPELLIER — Up to 13,000 people turned out in cities across France to celebrate gay pride on Saturday, as two men exchanged vows in France's first, highly controversial, gay marriage.

Several thousand people – 8,000 according to organisers, half as many according to police – marched through the Mediterranean city of Montpellier, calling for the government to enact a law against homophobia.

Organisers paid tribute to Noel Mamere, a mayor and leading figure in the opposition Greens party, who went ahead with the ceremony despite threats from the conservative government to punish him and annul the marriage.

Mamere celebrated the wedding of 31-year-old Bertrand Charpentier and 34-year-old Stephane Chapin, a shopkeeper and a male nurse, in the Bordeaux suburb of Begles of which he is mayor.

In Bordeaux itself, several hundred paraders marched through the city centre to the sound of pumping techno music, swaying and waving colourful banners in tribute to the groundbreaking ceremony.

"(Mamere) has made today a great day and has enabled Bordeaux's gay population to be proud of their sexuality and of their relationships," said Julien, one of the parade's organisers.

In many countries, the parades are called Christopher Street Day, named after a road in Manhattan, the scene of violent clashes between police and gay activists in 1969 which marked the birth of the gay rights movement.

The main French gay pride parade, this year renamed the lesbian, gay, bi and trans pride march, takes place in Paris on June 26.

Another 5,000 people, headed up by members of the gay bikers association, paraded through the northern city of Lille to the beat of electronic music, according to organisers. Police set their number at 2,500.

"In the face of homophobia, let's share our differences" proclaimed a giant banner at the head of the procession.

Gay militants set up a village with a dozen stalls – at one of which a group of young Green party militants was handing out fake marriage certificates in a tongue-in-cheek reference to Saturday's gay wedding.

In the eastern city of Metz, hundred of people held a minute of silence in tribute to the victims of homophobic attacks and discrimination.

"All we are asking for is to be considered as full citizens, which means having the same rights as anyone in this country," said Stephane Aurousseau.

"That means fighting against homophobic attacks, and also for the right to marriage and adoption."

Watched by a cheering crowd, two Green party town councillors held a symbolic marriage ceremony for a gay and a lesbian couple in the main city square.

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 marriage.

In neighbouring Switzerland, thousands of people marched through Zurich to protest against homophobia and discrimination against gays and lesbians around the world.

"Ten years ago, I would never have thought I could enter parliament as a gay person," Martin Naef, a Socialist lawmaker who is openly gay, told the crowd at Switzerland's annual Gay Pride event, also known as Christopher Street Day.

Switzerland has plans to introduce a legal partnership between gay couples, although the project is likely to be put to a referendum. – AFP

Related stories
French govt moves to punish mayor over gay wedding [07/06/2004]



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