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Controversial 'marriage charter' to restrict festive Nice weddings

Text by Rachel HOLMAN

Latest update : 2012-06-01

Fed up with overly festive weddings at Nice's city hall, the mayor of the southern French town has penned a "marriage charter" to curb disruptive behaviour. The charter, which takes effect Friday, has sparked outrage among civil rights groups.

France’s southern city of Nice is set to enact its new “marriage charter” on Friday, a strict set of rules that prohibits overly celebratory behaviour at civil ceremonies, in a move that does not bode well for festive wedding goers and which has sparked criticism from civil rights organisations.

Penned by the city’s mayor, Christian Estrosi, the charter is an ambitious text that aims to ensure that “the emotion that accompanies [a wedding] must be expressed in public places without exuberance and with respect to all sensibilities”.

Shouting, whistling, music and “the deployment of banners, notably foreign flags” are just a handful of behaviours deemed overly disruptive by the city of Nice. Others include tardiness, chaotic parking around the city hall and traffic (particularly along the famed Promenade des Anglais).

With such tight constraints, skipping a ceremony at the city hall might seem like an appealing option, however French law requires that all couples must have a civil marriage at their local government building.

Considering that Nice saw 1,296 weddings in 2011 alone, some have questioned how Estrosi plans to apply and ultimately enforce his new marriage charter.

“The charter is more a deterrent than a set of rules”, Auguste Verola, deputy mayor of Nice, told FRANCE 24. “It’s not a question of keeping people from ululating [crying out with emotion, a custom often practiced by women in Arab countries during celebrations and funerals] or applauding. It’s still a wedding, after all”.

According to Verola, a publicly elected official has the right to postpone a ceremony until the next day if a wedding party fails to respect the charter’s rules.

“It’s a question of common courtesy and politesse”, Verola said.

Reading between the lines

The charter, however, has drawn scathing criticism from civil rights organisations across the country who say it discriminates against the city’s North African and African communities.

“There are things hidden in the charter’s text”, said Bernadette Hétier, co-president of the organisation Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between Peoples (MRAP). “They’ve tried to create a charter that applies to everyone, but it is not designed to control the types of marriages that are traditional in France, which are public but above all a family event”.

“It is more geared for those who come from the other side of the Mediterranean, where weddings are traditionally much more joyous and are celebrated openly in public spaces”, Hétier added.

The local branch of France’s SOS Racisme also spoke out against the marriage charter.

“A number of people contacted us to alert us to the issue before it was set to come into effect”, said Amadou Diallo, president of SOS Racisme in Nice. Diallo went on to say that for the moment his organisation plans to observe how the charter is applied, but that it was also exploring the possibility of legal action.

Verola staunchly denied all accusations that the law targeted specific communities in Nice.

“The same rules are applied to everyone. Not exclusively North African flags or Algerian flags will be prohibited, it’s all flags”, he said, picking up on one of the more controversial rules in the charter.

Right-leaning Nice

Yet in a city known for its conservative politics, Hétier said the new set of rules should hardly come as a shock.

“The Right in the Alpes Maritimes [region] often takes on the role of the National Front”, Hétier said, referring to France’s far-right party. “This sort of thing is not at all surprising in this region of France”.

Nice's Mayor Estrosi represents former president Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative UMP party in parliament. He also belongs to the UMP's most right-wing faction, the Popular Right (droite populaire, in French), which favours tougher measures against crime and stricter laws to curb immigration.

In Nice, 23 percent of voters cast their ballots for National Front candidate Marine Le Pen during the first round of France’s presidential elections in May – more than five percentage points higher than the national figure, according to official results. The second round saw more than 60 percent of Nice voters turn out in support of incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy, who ultimately lost the race to Socialist candidate François Hollande with 48.36 percent of the national vote.

With the country’s legislative elections swiftly approaching on June 10 and 17, both Hétier and Diallo said they believed the marriage charter was in part an attempt to woo far-right voters.

“It is absolutely a wink at the far-right electorate”, Diallo said. “It’s almost a paradox. Usually weddings are meant to be a moment of happiness, of joy, but now it is becoming the opposite”.


Date created : 2012-05-31


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