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French mayor warned over gay marriage refusal

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Jean-Michel Colo, mayor of Arcangues in south-western France was threatened with "significant sanctions" for refusing to marry a gay couple in the town. Joel Saget/AFP
17:13 CEST+02:00
A southern French mayor risks a €45,000 fine and possible jail-time for refusing to wed a same-sex couple, in defiance of the controversial law passed in May. France's Interior Minister on Monday warned of "significant sanctions."

After months of often rancorous debate and even violent clashes over the issue, France is preparing for the possibility of yet another furore over the government's legalization of the same-sex unions.

Jean-Michel Colo, mayor of Arcangues in the Pays-Basques region of south-western France has become the first French official to formally refuse to officiate at the wedding of a gay couple, sparking uproar and angry warnings from government ministers.

"When people close the door at home, they do what they want.," Colo told public service France Television.

"For me, marriage is for a woman and man to have children. I am not discriminating as a same-sex couple is sterile. It’s a parody of equality, it’s a big lie," he added, explaining his steadfast refusal to marry a gay couple named Jean-Michel and Guy.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls said in response there would be "significant sanctions" if Colo pressed ahead on the matter, telling the media that any public servants refusing to respect the letter of the law would be guilty of discrimination and thus risk up to three years in prison, as well as paying €45,000 in damages.

The mayoral refusal, announced on Friday in a statement, has angered local LGBT rights campaigners.

"It’s a battle that’s already been lost," Bena Gachen, spokesman for local network Les Bascos, told French television TF1.

“The law should apply across the country.”

Alexander Marcel, chairman of Committee to Defend Gay Rights, responded that his organization would report the 60-year-old mayor for discrimination..

The same-sex couple who were planning to wed in the village before Colo’s refusal told Sud-Ouset that they would fight for their right to marry.

Jean-Michel and Guy furthermore said that, in protest, they would henceforth not pay local taxes.

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A second couple, Marc and Joseph, set to tie the knot on Saturday in nearby Biarritz, told regional daily Sud Ouest that they were shocked by the mayor’s stance.

"A mayor must respect the laws of (the) Republic. What is happening in Arcangues is totally absurd. "

Colo, meanwhile, has also received an outpour of support on social media sites by opponents to the new law. 

Additional reporting by Élodie Pradet

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