France denies egalite to gay couples

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The Independent Online
FRENCH LAWMAKERS rejected a bill yesterday that aimed to give legal status to unmarried couples, including homosexuals. The decision was another setback in a decade-long campaign to accord rights to such groups.

Howls echoed through the National Assembly chamber after the hand vote to declare the bill "inadmissible", meaning that deputies would not even consider the text, sponsored by the Socialist Party of the Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin. The procedure means that the bill - which opponents said would undermine the traditional family - need not even be examined.

The so-called Civil Solidarity Pact, or Pacs, had been expected to pass in the left-dominated National Assembly, despite a rough ride, including up to 800 amendments that were expected to be filed by the right.

But the centrist Union for French Democracy put the motion of inadmissibility on the floor, a move used to seek acknowledgement that a text runs counter to the constitution. Such a procedure is rarely adopted. It passed in this case in part because numerous Socialist deputies failed to show up.

The French Justice Minister, Elisabeth Guigou, said the government "is fully disposed to do the necessary so this text is discussed as soon as possible". Hours earlier, the minister argued in favour of the bill. It "is not a sub-marriage, a clone or a quasi-marriage", Ms Guigou told the deputies. "It is not a solemn act like marriage."

The Jospin government had argued that the pact was needed to bring French law into line with changes in society, providing a needed legal framework for people living together, whether they be homosexual or heterosexual.

But the right was not persuaded. "This desecrates marriage," said Jean- Louis Debre, parliamentary party leader of President Jacques Chirac's RPR group. Asked by French radio yesterday if he thought he could get the bill scrapped, Mr Debre said: "I think so."

Mr Jospin had tried to take the heat out of the controversy on Thursday evening in a rare live television interview.

"The civil solidarity pact is a contract between two people, some of whom may be - and are - homosexuals who would choose this type of pact to regulate certain problems of their shared lives. If we looked at this with less passion, I think we would encounter far fewer troubles," he told France 2 channel.

The only self-professed homosexual in the National Assembly had, embarrassingly, skipped the session. Andre Labarrere, the Socialist deputy, returned to his constituency in southwest France for the weekend.

"I never thought there wouldn't be a majority," he admitted.