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Hollande mulls letting mayors reject gay weddings

French President François Hollande told a national mayors’ conference on Tuesday that he may allow mayors to refuse to officiate at gay weddings, sparking criticism for backsliding on his vow to support laws ensuring "marriage for everyone".


French mayors may be able to opt out of officiating at gay weddings, President François Hollande announced on Tuesday in response to widespread discontent among local officials at the proposed “marriage for everyone” law.

Hollande said he respected mayors’ “freedom of conscience” and invoked the possibility of allowing them to delegate responsibility to councillors if they had a personal objection to marrying same-sex couples.

The move sparked criticism from Inter-LGBT, a gay-rights advocay group, which said it was "suspending all relations with the government" until Hollande clarified his statement, which the group said "at best, can be termed a clumsy act and at worse, treachery".

All couples getting married in France are obliged to undergo a civil ceremony -- even if they plan to have a church wedding. The ceremonies are mostly officiated by mayors, who can be replaced by their deputies.

Hollande, who promised to legislate in favour of same-sex marriage in his 2012 election campaign, reminded mayors that they were “representatives of the state and therefore obliged to apply the law” if parliament voted to allow gay marriage.

“The law applies to everyone in France,” he added. “But it must be applied with respect to freedom of conscience. Mayors are currently able to delegate their responsibilities to deputies, but for same-sex marriages it is possible that we could expand their options for delegation.”

‘Right to refuse’

The proposed law allowing for gay marriage in France has sparked widespread discontent among local officials, especially in more socially conservative rural areas.

In the south-western Languedoc Roussillon region, one in five mayors said they would refuse to marry gay couples, according to a poll by local daily newspaper Midi Libre.

And in the south-eastern Provence region a campaign by far-right mayor Jacques Bompard -- a former high-ranking member of the French National Front -- calling for the “right to refuse” has gathered more than 2,000 signatures.

France’s highest-profile conservative mayor, Jean-François Copé, who on Monday won the battle to lead former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP party, said at the end of October that he would not officiate at gay weddings in his town of Meaux, fearing “a destabilisation of society”.

Hollande’s announcement was met with consternation by supporters of the bill, which is due to be debated by parliament at the beginning of 2013.

Responding to the mayors’ revolt on November 8, Justice Minister Christiane Taubira insisted that “we can’t massage this law to suit them”.

“I quite understand that some mayors are upset about this,” she said. “But they celebrate marriages as part of their function as officers of the state, and there is no getting away from this responsibility.”

Gay rights organisations were also critical of Hollande’s apparent volte-face.

Nicolas Gougain of the Inter-LGBT association told AFP: “I don’t understand how it would be possible to justify a law that wasn’t applied everywhere in France.”

Opposers of the bill, meanwhile, were delighted.

Alain Escada, head of the far-right Catholic-linked (and pro-Royalist) Civitas association, which has been campaigning against the proposed law, said that “what appears to be Hollande’s first step backwards on this issue proves that protests against gay marriage in France are starting to bear fruit.”

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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