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64% of Frenchmen can't be wrong

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France Holds First Gay Wedding, Despite Govt. Threat



June 5, 2004


BEGLES, France (Reuters) - Two men exchanged marriage vows on Saturday in France's first gay wedding, hailed by supporters as a victory for human rights but swiftly denounced by the government as illegal.


The couple, one dressed in white and one in black, swapped rings, hugs and kisses at a ceremony in the town hall of Begles in southwestern France which prompted a rally of support by drag queens and a protest by conservatives.


Mayor Noel Mamere, who is leading an assault on traditional family values, defied Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin to wed the two men. Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin announced the mayor would face legal action.


``Your marriage is a first, and I hope it will become something normal,'' said Mamere, a Green member of parliament, pronouncing them ``united by the bond of marriage.''


Bertrand Charpentier and Stephane Chapin, who have been in hiding for the past month because of the controversy and media attention, said the wedding was a victory for tolerance.


``If we have a message to give, it is be like us, be tolerant, love each other and pursue your dreams to the end,'' Charpentier, 31, told reporters after the wedding, his arm around the 33-year-old Chapin.


Blinking back tears, Mamere said he was not breaking the law and dismissed the government's threats against him.


But Villepin said Mamere could be suspended from office.


``He has broken the law and failed in his duty as mayor, despite the prime minister's solemn warning,'' he said, referring to a threat issued by Raffarin in parliament that any civil official presiding over a gay marriage would face censure.




Gay marriages have become a political issue in France ahead of this month's European Parliament elections. Opposition parties want a change in the law to let gay couples marry, but President Jacques Chirac's ruling conservatives say they would not get public support.


Some critics say the wedding is simply a Mamere publicity stunt ahead of next week's European elections vote.


A recent survey by Elle magazine showed 64 percent of French people were in favor of same-sex weddings, but the population is more divided when it comes to gay couples adopting children. The survey showed this was backed by 49 percent of respondents.


French law already allows existing civil unions between homosexuals but gays say this gives them a bad deal in terms of tax, inheritance and parenting rights.


The topic of gay weddings has stirred controversy in other countries, notably the United States, where President Bush has called for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.


Belgium, the Netherlands, the U.S. state of Massachusetts and three Canadian provinces have legalized gay marriage.


Drag queens wearing nuns' habits, vamped-up wedding gowns and bright red lipstick hailed the ceremony as a milestone in human rights. Young pro-family activists branded it an attack on the sanctity of marriage.


Teenagers held signs declaring: ``Today gay marriage and adoption, tomorrow incest and pedophilia.''


Mamere said he had a clear conscience and was just interpreting the law.


Asked what the couple planned to do next, Charpentier said: ``We are going to go and buy a house and get on with our lives.''

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