Mayor suspended over gay wedding
A prominent Green MP takes the lead over same-sex marriages in France but finds his job on ice after officiating at one, reports Jon Henley
Thursday June 17, 2004
Noël Mamère was suspended from his post as mayor of the south-western town of Bègles today, not quite two weeks after he officiated at the first gay wedding in France's history.
Mamère, a TV news presenter turned particularly combative Green MP and a one-time presidential candidate, has already applied to a nearby administrative court, in Bordeaux, to have the month-long suspension cancelled but is considered highly unlikely to get any joy.
In a statement the interior ministry said the mayor had been punished "because he ignored a ruling by the public prosecutor that marriages between two members of the same sex are illegal" and because, as an elected official of the republic, he "must act in the name of the state".
Moreover, the ministry added, Mamère had made matters worse by doing everything in his not inconsiderable power to make sure that the marriage of Stephane Chapin, a 33-year-old home nurse, and Bertrand Charpentier, a 31-year-old warehouseman, was front-page news. (It certainly was in France and it probably would have been in a lot of other countries had not Messrs Chapin and Charpentier been sufficiently media unsavvy to get married on the 60th anniversary of D-day.)
Mamère says article 144 of the French civil code does not state that marriages cannot not be celebrated between two people of the same sex and claims that it is "an overriding principle of French law that that which is not specifically outlawed is permissible".
The MP said this week: "For me this act is the continuation of a struggle I have fought for a long time for equal rights and against all discrimination. Homosexuals in this country, as in many others, suffer from a great deal of discrimination. They are the last category of French people who are banned from getting married." He added that, in Europe, Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands already have legislation allowing same-sex marriages while Germany is planning it.
If the marriage of Chapin and Charpentier was annulled, which a Bordeaux tribunal would decide later this month, he would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, he said.
The Green party said today it was calling on all mayors "to celebrate as many gay marriages as possible" in protest at Mamère's suspension. "The government has to be forced to respect the spirit of Europe, which enshrines the principle that what is valid in one EU country must be in another," said the party's spokesman, Yves Contassot.
However, Bertrand Delanoë, the Socialist mayor of Paris and the most senior French politician to have publicly declared his homosexuality, was distinctly more reticent: he said he "disapproved" of the sanction against Mamère but would not say whether he would conduct a gay wedding.
For the fact is that the fuss surrounding Mamère's act of provocation puts Delanoë, and much of the French left, in a tricky position. The Socialists are split: leading traditionalists, such as the former prime minister Lionel Jospin and his family affairs minister, Ségolène Royal, have said they disapprove; would-be modernisers such as François Hollande, Ms Royal's partner, are in favour.
The right, too, is in trouble over the issue. President Jacques Chirac and the prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, have been trying hard to court the gay vote in France but were obliged, given the views of the conservative, Catholic majority that makes up their electorate, to abandon the effort in the face of "le mariage de Bègles".
Delanoë is on record as saying that he backs gay marriages and that he spent 90 minutes trying to persuade Jospin to change his mind on the issue. But the highly popular Paris mayor, who could well become France's first openly gay presidential candidate in 2007, is also on the record as saying that he is determined to respect the law.
So despite the fact that according to a recent poll, more than 55% of the French had no serious objection to same-sex marriages and would like to see the law changed, Delanoë is unlikely, for the time being, to allow any gay weddings to be conducted within the city boundaries.
It is an announcement that will no doubt hurt him deeply, but the two men who last week asked to be married in the capital's 19th arrondissement are unlikely to see their application approved. Delanoë may be gay, but he is too smart and too ambitious a politician for that.