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France

French lesbian couple fight for the right to say 'I do'

Text by Sophie PILGRIM

Latest update : 2012-02-03

France is being forced to reassess its ban on same-sex marriage as a lesbian couple’s ten-year legal battle (Corrine Cestino and Sophie Hasslauer, pictured) will finally be ruled on by the country’s Constitutional Council Friday.

France prides itself on its human rights record and its national motto of “Liberty, equality, and fraternity”. However, for a country famed for its ‘laissez-faire’ attitude towards love and sex, there is a puzzling contradiction: gay couples do not have the right to marry.

Corrine Cestino and Sophie Hasslauer (pictured) have been in a relationship for almost 14 years and have four children. Furthermore, the couple already have a legally recognised civil partnership, which is known as the “pacs” in France. For the couple in question though, it is not marriage.

They have now taken their cause to France’s highest constitutional body.

The Constitutional Council is set to decide Friday whether to repeal a law which bans same-sex marriage. The change would grant gay couples the same marriage rights as their heterosexual counterparts.

The review comes after France’s highest court of appeal – the Court of Cassation – launched an investigation into the law in November of last year. It was sparked after the couple from the north-eastern city of Reims demanded an enquiry into the legality of certain “civil code” articles inscribed in law, which prohibit the pair from marrying.

The ‘pacs’ contract was introduced in 1999 to appease gay rights campaigners, but legally, it pales in comparison with marriage. “Marriage is the only solution in terms of protecting our children, sharing parental authority, settling inheritance problems and eventual custody if one of us were to die,” the couple told AFP.

A study carried out by the National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED) estimated in 2009 that some 24,000 to 40,000 French children live with gay parents. However, the figures are difficult to verify due to the fact that only one parent will be legally recognised as such in France, as a result many couples shy away from declaring their status.

France lagging behind other EU countries

There are already nine European Union members who, to differing degrees, allow same-sex couples to marry: Belgium, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Denmark and Sweden. In the UK, civil unions afford the same rights as marriage but the government has stopped short of calling it ‘marriage’.

“There’s absolutely no reason why we should continually be denied the right,” argues gay rights activist Laura Petersell from the gay-rights group Act Up Paris campaign. “It’s not a favour, a present, a privilege – it’s a fundamental and universal right,” she told FRANCE 24.

The lawyer of Cestino and Hasslauer made this very point in May last year; Emmanuel Ludot described the ban as “limiting the personal freedom of French citizens”.

‘Evolution of morals’

When it took on the issue, the Court of Cassation described gay marriage as "a subject of broad debate within society, notably because of the evolution of morals".

Petersell was quick to reject the comments: “Although France claims to be constitutionally a secular state, our legislation is too entrenched in outdated religious morals to move on.”

The French public is largely in favour of gay marriage. The latest survey, carried out in November 2009 by the French opinion pollsters BVA, showed that 64% are in support of gay marriage, and 57% are in favour of gay couples adopting children.

But for Thierry-Xavier Girardot, who is representing the government over the delicate issue, the civil partnership “Pacs” law is enough “recognition” for homosexual couples, leaving marriage a contract exclusively “between a man and a woman”.

No wonder Petersell is despondent about Friday’s vote. “We can always hope,” she sighs.

Corrine Cestino and Sophie Hasslauer with their four children: the eldest (16), from a previous relationship, and the younger three (aged between six and ten), conceived through artificial insemination in Belgium (prohibited for homosexual couples in France).

 

Date created : 2011-01-27

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