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Same Sex Marriage Issue Divides France - 2004-06-05

A French mayor performed the country's first homosexual wedding Saturday, despite the threat of government sanctions and widespread political opposition. But, elsewhere in France, city halls are not as willing to defy the law or mainstream politics.

Dominique Adamski and Francis Dekens had just about everything ready for their wedding, which was to have taken place on June 19 in the southern French town of Marseillan. They had bought rings, commissioned a caterer, filled out the necessary forms at the Marseillan town hall, even scheduled the time of the afternoon ceremony.

But on Wednesday, their wedding plans skidded to a halt, after the Socialist mayor of Marseillan opted out of performing a formal ceremony, fearing threats of legal sanctions.

Speaking on the phone, 50-year-old Mr. Adamski says he was very disappointed with the mayor's decision. He calls for a referendum on the issue, and argues that the French government was defying public opinion.

The setback for Mr. Adamski and Mr. Dekens came just before France's first ever same-sex wedding took place in Begles, a small town near Bordeaux, France. The town's leftist mayor, Noel Mamere, defied a growing chorus of political opposition - along with threats of administrative and penal sanctions - and went ahead with the country's first same-sex wedding ceremony involving a male homosexual couple.

Mr. Mamere, a leader in France's small Greens Party, argues that France's family code says nothing about limiting the alliance to heterosexuals. He also describes the marriage as a necessary act of civil disobedience if French laws are to mirror social realities. The couple is threatening to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, which may have far-reaching implications for Europe.

Polls show that the majority of French support same-sex marriages. More recently, several leftist mayors have backed the notion as well.

The Netherlands and Belgium recognize same-sex marriage, and other European countries recognize some form of homosexual union. In neighboring Spain, Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has also vowed to make such unions legal.

But in France, political parties are split over same-sex marriages, with some leftist lawmakers and the majority of conservative ones speaking against them. Jean Leonetti, a conservative lawmaker representing France's Union for a Popular Movement Party, supports granting homosexual couples greater rights, but not allowing them to marry.

Mr. Leonetti suggests instead making improvements in France's civil solidarity pacts - unions between heterosexual and gay couples that offer fewer rights than those granted to wedded couples.