French PM mulls commission to look at gay marriage

June 25, 2004

Alain Piriou centre after talks with the minister
Photo - AFP
PARIS — French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin told gay rights groups Thursday he was considering setting up a commission to study marriage and adoption, in an apparent attempt to deflect criticism for punishing a mayor who wedded two homosexual men early this month.

"He promised to speak it over with the president of the republic (Jacques Chirac). The forum for public debate would involve parliamentary deputies, intellectuals and members of society who have a position on the issue," the spokesman of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Transexual Inter-association (LBGT), Alain Piriou, said after the meeting.

Raffarin held the working breakfast with the groups as issues involving France's homosexual community were gaining prominence.

The government last week suspended for a month a mayor from the opposition Green party, Noel Mamere, after he officiated over a June 5 wedding of two men – France's first gay wedding – in defiance of authorities' instructions.

That incident created an uproar in the country and earned Raffarin's conservative government anger from gay rights groups.

The ruckus was likely to be again referred to on Saturday, when Paris is to hold its annual Gay Pride parade.

But the government has also taken a strong stand in favour of homosexuals, on Wednesday approving a bill which would punish homophobic attacks or insults with jail time and a fine of up to 45,000 euros (54,000 dollars).

The bill, which puts sexist and anti-gay remarks on the same criminal level as words encouraging racism or anti-Semitism, was conceived in the wake of a vicious attack on a homosexual man who was badly burned earlier this year.

An association which defends the rights of homosexuals in France, SOS-Homophobia, issued a report Tuesday that the number of violent assaults on gay people doubled between 2002 and 2003, from 41 complaints to 86.

"A large percentage of the population is in favour of rights for homosexuals, but there are extremists whose total rejection of homosexualtiy pushes them into acts that go very far," a spokesman for the association, Ronan Rosec, said as he presented the report.

Piriou said Tuesday that Raffarin's idea for a commission on marriage and adoption did not intend to reform the institutions in France.

He predicted that "at the end of the debate we'll probably come to a disagreement, but we are not losing hope in convincing the majority of people that reforms are necessary to achieve equal rights".

His association and other pro-gay groups said they were determined to lobby hard for marriage to be formally extended to homosexual couples.

"Concerning marriage, we are not prepared to make concessions.

It's marriage or nothing," the head of the Association for Gay and Lesbian Parents, Martine Gross, said.

France has since 1999 permitted couples, including same-sex ones, to attain some of the legal rights of marriage, but not others, notably those dealing with taxes and inheritance, through a civil union known as PACS.

Belgium and the Netherlands are currently the only two European states that recognise homosexual marriages. – Sapa-AFP

Related stories
French cabinet approves bill outlawing homophobia [24/06/2004]



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