France upholds ban on marriage for gay couples

31 Jan 2011

29 January 2011

FRANCE'S CONSTITUTIONAL court has upheld a ban on gay marriage, reviving a political row and prompting opposition calls for the government to change the law.

In rejecting a challenge taken by a lesbian couple with four children, the court said it found no conflict between current law on same-sex marriage and the principle of equality. It noted that it was for parliament rather than the constitutional authorities to decide any change to the statute books.

Opposition figures seized on that observation yesterday and urged President Nicolas Sarkozy's government to make France the ninth European country to allow same-sex marriage. A majority of French public opinion is in favour of such a move, with the latest poll, by TNS Sofres, showing 51 per cent of respondents approved and 35 per cent were against. In 2006, the agency reported 51 per cent opposition and 45 per cent support.

"Our fight will clearly not end today," said Sophie Haaslauer, who initiated the appeal with her partner, Corinne Cestino. The couple's lawyer said politicians should accept the shift in public sentiment and change the law. "France is . . . dozing off, no longer the beacon of human rights on this planet," said Emmanuel Ludot.

Since a reform enacted by Lionel Jospin's socialist-led government in 1999, France allows civil unions between people of the same sex, but that status confers fewer rights than marriage.

Mr Mamère, a Green deputy, said he was not surprised by yesterday's court decision but welcomed that the judges, by reminding the executive that it was responsible for any changes to the law, had not "closed the door" on gay marriage.

The French left is generally supportive of same-sex marriage rights. Leading a chorus of calls for urgent reform, the socialist former minister Jack Lang said the issue presented the political class with a chance to show "real intellectual courage". He said it was depressing that France was behind so many countries, including Spain, Portugal and Mexico.

"French legislators were among the last to recognise women's right to vote, or 18-year-olds' right to vote, or to abolish the death penalty. Will we now be the last to establish equality between sexual orientations?"

Mr Sarkozy's UMP party, many of whose members oppose same-sex marriage, was slow to react officially to the court ruling. Speaking shortly before the verdict was made public, Henri Guiano, a close adviser to the president, said the issue was one for society rather than lawyers to discuss. "This is perhaps a matter for the presidential election, for political debate, for parliamentary debate, but not just for legal debate," he said.

Others believe the UMP is reluctant to broach an issue that could prove electorally damaging to it.

Mr Mamère suggested the government was unlikely to initiate the debate before the 2012 presidential election because Mr Sarkozy's party would be seeking to "poach" Front National (FN) issues and emphasise its conservative values.

In a statement, FN leader Marine Le Pen said she was strongly opposed to same-sex marriage and that "the huge majority of homosexuals are not demanding the right to be different but the right to be left alone".


Via The Irish Times