"Marriage is contracted by two people of different sexes or the same sex." This is the wording of the key article in the draft law to legalize civil marriage for gay people, which France’s Council of Ministers will examine on 31 October. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault confirmed this on Wednesday, October 10, adding that he hoped for a quick vote so that the reform, a campaign promise made by President François Hollande, could be implemented next year.
Although the issues of adoption and medically assisted procreation by gay couples have been deferred to later legislation, the debate over gay marriage is still not closed. Many politicians, mostly from the right or the extreme right, are virulently opposed to the measure, which several major religious leaders have also rejected.
Beyond a few over-reactions that led some political and religious figures to associate gay marriage with incest and polygamy, the revolt by local officials against this "social issue" is getting organized. Several have already announced they will simply not apply the law in their town halls.
At the forefront of this struggle, the deputy mayor of Orange, Jacques Bompard (Ligue du Sud, ex-National Front, far right), launched a "national petition of mayors and elected officials" on September 21 to oppose gay marriage and demand a "right of withdrawal" if the law were to be adopted.
"It is a law that affects the very structure of our society, as well as everyone’s conscience. It is therefore unacceptable for an elected official to be deprived of the fundamental freedom to not condone something that is not in accordance with his ethics,” reads the petition, which had gathered some 1,252 signatures as of October 10. (Note, France has about 150,000 mayors and deputy mayors throughout the country.)
Given the above, argues the mayor of Orange, "I propose…to introduce, should this dire law regrettably be adopted, an article establishing a right of withdrawal under a conscience clause for mayors and deputy mayors who wish it."
As the list of signatories is not public, it is impossible to verify that petitioners are indeed mayors or deputies, all authorized to preside over town hall marriage ceremonies. But a number of voices, from the UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, center right) as well as the extreme right, have been raised expressing similar sentiments. The UMP mayor of the eighth arrondissement of Paris, François Lebel, said he would refuse to comply, as did Corsican mayor Charles-Antoine Casanova. Ditto for the mayor of Montfermeil, Xavier Lemoine, a member of Christine Boutin’s Christian Democratic Party.
"This is categorical. For me to perform a gay marriage ceremony is out of the question," said Raymond Couderc, UMP mayor of Béziers (Hérault), to Sipa (press agency). "If there is no conscience clause, I will place myself outside the law,” he stormed.
Groundswell or marginal dissent, it is true the Collectif des maires pour l’enfance (Mayors’ Collective for Children) decided to send a letter to 150,000 mayors and deputy mayors of France to consult them on the gay marriage bill. "We asked them if they are in favor of a mayors’ consultation before any family reform, if they are for or against gay marriage, and whether they would like to have a conscience clause that allows them not to perform these ceremonies," said Philippe Gosselin, the UMP deputy mayor from Manche.
The Collective was founded in 2006 to obtain a consultation of mayors before any legislative or regulatory changes in family policy. As of five years ago, it included 12,585 mayors, a third of the total number, according to Gosselin.
For its part, the UMP has not openly taken a stand on the refusal to conduct civil marriages in town halls. But the conservative party, which held an executive committee meeting this Wednesday, has once again demanded that the government hold a “parliamentary assembly on the family,” in order to discuss, in particular, the issue of gay marriage.
According to the secretary general of the UMP, such consultation is likely to "reduce the risk of blunders on a topic that today generates much debate, opposition and tension."
At first, the junior minister for families, Dominique Bertinotti, clearly excluded the idea that mayors, regardless of their political affiliation, could oppose the implementation of the law. "There is no reason for local exceptions. We can’t both ask our citizens to be very respectful of the law and, once elected to serve the Republic, be exempt," she stated decisively as she left this Wednesday’s Council of Ministers’ meeting.
However, if some were to refuse to marry two people of the same sex, mayors would always have "the possibility of having deputies who can do it" in their place, she said more moderately. It is already a fact that civil marriages can be performed either by the mayor or by one of his deputies.
When he was questioned, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also played the appeasement card. "I think the mayors who represent the state -- I know many, I myself was mayor, I know their sense of the public interest -- are careful to respect the laws passed by the Republic. If a mayor says, as a personal statement, I don’t want to perform this marriage, in any case marriages will be performed everywhere. If it’s not the mayor, if it’s a deputy, I respect that,” he declared.
This story originally appeared on Le Huffington Post. To view the original story, click here.