French mayor: gay marriage may lead to incest

A Parisian mayor has stirred up a row over France's plan to legalise gay marriage by announcing he will refuse to preside over same-sex marriages on the grounds they could open the door to the approval of polygamous or incestuous unions.

Francois Lebel, the mayor of the capital's 8th district who married former President Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-supermodel Carla Bruni, has been widely condemned for his comments by politicians across the political spectrum.

But there are also growing signs of a grassroots revolt against gay marriage that could yet make life uncomfortable for the ruling Socialists as it seeks to enact the promised legislation.

Lebel, writing in a municipal newspaper this week, said lifting the taboo on same-sex marriage would set a dangerous precedent.

"Why then would the legal age for marriage be maintained? And why forbid marriage between close relations, paedophilia or incest which are all still common currency in the world."

Lebel's comments were condemned by Socialists from President Francois Hollande down and by leaders of his own party, the UMP.

Former prime minister Francois Fillon warned that Hollande's administration needed to tread carefully on the issue.

"They would do well to think twice before opening this debate now," Fillon said. "We are going to see the French people very deeply split over this issue."

Polls suggest up to two thirds of French voters back the right of homosexuals to marry but they are evenly split on whether gays should be able to adopt. Surveys also indicate that the issue is very important for those who are opposed to both reforms.

A group of mayors on the island of Corsica have announced they will refuse to carry out gay marriages and local councillors in the Paris suburb of Le Chesnay this week passed a motion calling for a referendum, an idea that seems to be gathering momentum.

The idea of a popular vote on the issue is backed by the Christian Democratic Party, an ally of the main centre-right UMP opposition, and by prominent figures in the Catholic church.

A draft bill covering both gay marriage and adoption rights is due to be approved in principle by Hollande's cabinet at the end of this month and the government has promised the legislation will be on the statute book by mid-2013.

Hollande has shown no sign of reneging on this manifesto promise despite backtracking on other elements of his socially liberal agenda.

With Hollande's blessing, Interior Minister Manuel Valls has postponed a promised move to allow residents of France from outside the European Union to vote in local elections and plans to make police officers keep a paper record of random identity checks have also been shelved.

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The rising tide of violence against France’s local mayors

As one French town said farewell to its mayor, who was killed while tackling fly-tippers, new figures have revealed the extent of violence and threats against local officials.

The rising tide of violence against France's local mayors
French mayors play a vital role in society. Photo: AFP

Jean-Mathieu Michel, 76, died after he pulled up and ordered two workers who were dumping rubble by the side of the road to take it away in the southern town of Signes, where he had been mayor for 36 years.

Now figures from the Ministry of the Interior reveal that in 2018, 361 mayors and their deputies were attacked.

Mayors at the funeral of Jean-Mathieu Michel. Photo: AFP

The death of Signes' mayor has revived the feeling of abandonment of many local elected officials.

The role of mayor comes with many powers and responsibilities, and even village mayors are responsible for a bewildering array of tasks, from planning permission for home improvements to organising elections and preparing budgets.

READ ALSO Why village mayors are so important in France

According to the Ministry of the Interior, the trend is likely to increase with 317 attacks in 2016 and 332 in 2017.

Of the 361 mayors and deputy mayors who were victims of “wilful bodily harm” in 2018, 261 received threats or were victims of blackmail, 145 of “non-criminal physical violence” and 178 of verbal threats.

In a message read at the funeral of Jean-Mathieu Michel by Jacqueline Gourault, Minister of Territorial Cohesion, Emmanuel Macron promised to “personally ensure that in the face of incivilities and the disintegration of the meaning of the State and the Nation by some, the answer is always firm, exemplary and without complacency”.

There are more than 35,000 mayors in France and while jobs like the mayor of Paris come with a multi-million pound budget and a team of staff, just over half of French mayors oversee communes with less than 500 people, and take a very hands-on role in the community.

Hundreds of people attended the funeral of Jean-Mathieu Michel, who was described as a “lovely man, devoted to his town”.

Speaking after the funeral, Marie-Jeanne Beguet, mayor of the eastern French town of Civrieux, told French online news site 20 Minutes: “I think that citizens allow themselves to say or do things they would never have done before.

“Like for example insulting a mayor and using inappropriate terms. It happens very easily, there are no barriers anymore.”