But contrary to what was expected, the overwhelming majority have been heterosexual couples. The goal of gay rights advocates now is to erase the difference altogether, instituting marriage for same-sex couples, with the right to adopt children and, for lesbians, to seek to procreate through artificial insemination.
In that spirit, more than 50,000 mostly young advocates organized a rollicking parade in Paris on Sunday, led by techno-music dancers on a truck bed and a brace of Socialist Party figures talking nonstop into accompanying television cameras. Prominent among Socialist leaders at the head of the procession was Bertrand Delanoe, the openly gay mayor of Paris.
But away from the capital, the doubts grow among small-town mayors, whose most sacred duties include donning blue-white-and-red sashes and performing marriages according to legal formulas stretching back to the Napoleonic Code. In an unmistakable sign of how iconic the role is, Blerancourt, population 1,300, has in its town hall an elegant stairway to a landing where two unmistakable signs of government authority greet visitors: One, pointing left, directs them to the “wedding hall,” and the other, pointing right, directs them to “the mayor’s office.”
The main opposition party, the conservative Union for a Popular Movement, has been largely absent from efforts to head off the proposed law. Its two main figures, party leader Jean-Francois Cope and former prime minister Francois Fillon, have been locked in a bitter leadership struggle, sapping the group’s strength and leaving the mayors mostly to fend for themselves.
Nevertheless, Franck Meyer, mayor of Sotteville-sous-le-Val near Rouen, said he and other organizers of a group called Mayors for Childhood have gathered more than 18,000 signatures from among France’s 155,000 mayors and deputy mayors on a petition demanding that a “conscience clause” be included in the law, allowing mayors to refuse to perform gay marriages.
“These are people from right-wing parties, from left-wing parties, and some are not from any party at all,” Meyer said in a telephone interview.
Hollande’s party to decide
Several members of Parliament have said they will introduce an amendment for the conscience clause. But with its absolute majority, Hollande’s Socialist Party has the power to decide.
The law as approved by the government opens the way for gay marriages and adoptions but does not address demands for the right to medically assisted paternity; Hollande has said this will be up to the Socialist majority in Parliament.
Meyer said the petitioners have left undecided the question of whether they will perform same-sex marriages despite their convictions if the law passes. A small number of mayors have announced publicly, however, that they will refuse.
“I will exercise one way or another my right to stand aside in order not to proceed with such marriages because it would be a profound change to the Judeo-Christian society to which I belong,” said Jean Bizet, a conservative senator and mayor of Teilleul in Normandy.
Hollande recently told a group from the National Association of French Mayors that such a clause would be included so no one would be forced to go against personal convictions. But several days later, addressing a delegation from a group called the Inter-
Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Trans, he seemed to reverse course, saying the law “will be applied everywhere.”