Mayor faces suspension and fine over France's first gay wedding

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Noel Mamere, the mayor of Begles in the south-west of France, has presided over the country's first gay marriage.

M. Mamere, a former television presenter, performed the marriage of a shopworker, Bertrand Charpentier, 31, and a male nurse, Stephane Chapin, 34, on Saturday because he said he wanted to fight discrimination in France. Riot police surrounded the town hall where the ceremony took place because of protests by conservative groups.

The happy couple arrived in a brown Rolls-Royce and were applauded by gay rights activists. M. Mamere said he was "proud" of having officiated at the wedding and added: "I don't consider myself an outlaw."

The marriage, which was recorded and shown on French news bulletins, has ignited a fierce debate in France about the legality and morality of gay marriage. The Interior Minister, Dominique de Villepin, said he had begun disciplinary proceedings against M. Mamere and accused him of contravening the French civil code. "I intend to make sure the law of the republic and the authority of the state are respected," he said. If convicted M. Mamere could face suspension and a fine of €1,500 (£1,000).

French law allows civil unions for homosexual couples, but denies them full tax and inheritance rights. The Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, has said that French law specifies that marriage can only be between a man and a woman and has indicated that he believes the wedding to be invalid.

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