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Equal marriage rights for all, but not for all foreigners

media Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau became the first gay couple to be married in France on 29 May. Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier

Gay marriage has been legal in France since May. However, some expatriates won’t be able to marry their same-sex partners because of bilateral agreements signed between France and their countries of origin.

In a circulaire (recommendation note) presented to French civil servants stipulating how the new marriage law should be applied, the note stated that nationals from 11 countries are subjected to marriage laws in their home countries because of bilateral conventions signed in the past with France.

The countries affected are: Poland, Morocco, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Slovenia, Cambodia, Laos, Tunisia and Algeria. These countries do not recognise gay marriage.

This exception applies even if their partner is French, or has French residency rights.

“When a marriage is planned between two people of the same sex, and one of the future spouses is a national of one of these countries, the civil registrar cannot perform the marriage,” the note said.

The bilateral accords between Cambodia, Laos, Tunisia and Algeria were signed in the late 1950s and early 1960s just shortly after these countries gained independence from France, while similar accords were signed with the Balkan states to replace an agreement with the former Yugoslavia.

The accords were aimed at “regulating the status of immigrant workers or people of French origin who stayed in those countries at the time and wanted to remain subjected to French law,” Mathias Audit, a law professor from Paris West University Nanterre La Défense, told RFI’s sister station France 24.

From a legal standpoint, gay marriage for these couples “is impossible for now, except if the foreign spouse changes nationality,” Audit added.

Gay-rights associations such as the Association for the recognition of the rights of homosexual and transgendered people to immigration (Ardhis) say the law’s application is discriminatory because it excluded equal marriage on the basis of nationality.

Jean-Yves Leconte, a senator representing French expatriates, said in the French senate last week that law’s effect on nationals of EU-member states Poland and Slovenia would contravene the European Union’s rules, whereby one member state cannot discriminate against the citizens of another member state.

He added that expatriates are, in effect, not treated as equal citizens before the law in France.

France’s justice ministry is yet to respond to the concerns.

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