Paris mayor faces painful dilemma on gay marriage

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The Independent Online

The Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, faces an awkward decision in the next few days on whether to allow - even to conduct - the French capital's first gay marriage.

The Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, faces an awkward decision in the next few days on whether to allow - even to conduct - the French capital's first gay marriage.

M. Delanoe will almost certainly say "no", but it is a decision that will cause him - as the only openly homosexual front-rank politician in France - pain and annoyance.

The decision by the Green Party leader, Noel Mamère, to conduct a gay marriage last weekend in his capacity as mayor of a small town near Bordeaux has infuriated the right of French politics and split the left.

The centre-right government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin started legal action yesterday to annul last Saturday's marriage between Bertrand Charpentier, 31, a shop worker, and Stéphane Chapin, 34, a home help. The government has also started procedures to suspend M. Mamère from his position as mayor of Bègles, for having flouted repeated warnings that he was breaking French law.

Two men in Paris have now applied to be married in the 19th arrondissement of the capital. The mayor of the arrondissement, Roger Madec - a Socialist, like M. Delanoe - yesterday declared himself ready to conduct the ceremony, so long as the mayor of the city approved.

M. Delanoe is the only man in a senior position in French politics to have publicly declared his homosexuality. He said earlier this week that he approved of gay marriages and would like to see French law changed to make them possible. He also revealed that he had had a one-and-a-half-hour conversation on the telephone with the former Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin to try - unsuccessfully - to change the elder statesman's visceral public opposition to same-sex weddings.

However, M. Delanoe also announced that he was determined to respect the law and implied strongly that he - unlike M. Mamère - would not allow a gay wedding in Paris until the law was changed.

M. Mamère's decision to conduct a gay wedding has split the French left,publicly dividing the country's best-known power couple, Francois Hollande, secretary general of the Socialists (who favours same-sex marriages), and Segolenè Royal, a former health minister (who is against them).

However, M. Mamère's decision to defy warnings and go ahead with the wedding has also caused a political problem for the centre-right. President Jacques Chirac and the Prime Minister, M. Raffarin, had been trying to court the gay vote in France, but their strident opposition to the " mariage de Bègles" was inevitable, given the attitudes of most people on the conservative and Catholic right.

Nonetheless, an opinion poll this week suggested that a majority of French people - 55 per cent - saw no objection to formal gay marriages.

In an attempt to balance the government's position, M. Raffarin announced that he was reviving plans for a new law making it illegal to discriminate against, or insult, people for "sexist or homophobic" reasons.

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