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Gay marriage row moves on to France's town halls

Ben McPartland · 21 May 2013, 09:24

Published: 21 May 2013 09:24 GMT+02:00

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Anyone who thought the gay marriage row in France would quietly fizzle out now same-sex unions are legal should perhaps think again.

With the country’s highest court the Constitutional Council rejecting an objection to the gay marriage bill last week, the government appeared to have won the long running battle, at a national level at least.

However at a local level, it appears a new front will soon be opened up as elected French mayors across the country line up saying they will refuse to marry gay couples.

“There is a law of morality that is superior to the law of the Republic,” said Christine Boutin, leader of the Christian Democrats party, summing up the stance of many mayors opposed to a law, which also opens up adoption to same sex couples.

One such mayor is Michel Villedey, who presides over the small rural village of Thorigné-d’Anjou, to the north of Angers in central France, who told French daily Le Parisien this weekend that he was willing to go to prison to follow his beliefs.

“It’s a question of liberty of conscience. I respect the laws, apart from those which force me to carry out acts contrary to my beliefs.

But with numerous mayors refusing to budge it appears France could face costly legal wrangles that would see the peculiar situation of the state taking its own elected officials to court.

“Mayors act as agents of the state. They are obliged to comply with the laws. If they refuse to organize a wedding, they risk penalties and even an annulment of their duties as an officer of the state,” Bertrand Mathieu, an expert on the constitution told Europe1 radio.

Mayors who refuse to respect the law risk a €45,000 fine and up to three years in prison.

Jacques Remiller, from the opposition UMP party, who is mayor of the town of Vienne, also told Le Figaro he would also be refusing to marry gay couples.

Remiller, who says no one in his local party is willing to carry out the marriages, said he plans to pass a by-law which would see officials from other political parties being able to perform the services.

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It appears Remiller will be within his rights to do this as under French law a mayor is allowed to delegate part of his functions to other members of the local council, including the opposition.

Seeking a solution to the issue UMP deputies including Paris mayoral candidate Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet have proposed a change in the law that would allow a couple to wed in a different town hall if their local mayor is against gay marriage.

Currently in France couples are only allowed to wed in their local town hall, theoretically at least, but the amendment would see this rule relaxed to allow them to wed in the town hall where their parents live, for example.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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