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France

Hollande government flip-flops on gay marriage

media As many as 100,000 people demonstrated against same-sex marriage in France … Reuters/Christian Hartmann

French President François Hollande has been caught in a series of embarrassing contradictions over the proposal to legalise same-sex marriage this week. On Wednesday Hollande appeared to back down on a suggestion that mayors could opt out of performing gay marriages but the row seems far from settled.

Speaking to an annual conference of mayors, who carry out civil marriages in France, on Tuesday Hollande declared that they light be able to exercise “freedom of conscience” on performing same-sex marriages.

His words followed a weekend of protests by Catholics and other opponents of the proposed law and declarations by several right-wing mayors that they would refuse to carry out gay marriages if the law is passed.

“The law applies to all,” Hollande told the conference but he added, “within the limits of freedom of conscience, all the same.”

He went on to suggest that more options could be created for mayors to delegate the task.

On Wednesday Justice Minister Christiane Taubira declared that mayors opposed to the law could delegate to another official to carry out the ceremony.

This apparent backtracking on one of Hollande's manifesto promises caused uproar among gay rights campaigners and on the hard left. And it put further strains on the Socialists' coalition with the Green party EELV, which slammed the statement as “inadmissible”.

On Wednesday evening 400 supporters of the bill, summoned by social networks, cried treason outside the Socialist Party’s headquarters in Paris and Hollande was forced to meet gay rights group Inter-LGBT to try and calm them down.

Hollande promised them that the law would apply in every town and village of France.

That in turn earned a reproach from far-right leader Marine Le Pen that France was now a “lobbyocracy” not a democracy.

“Have sectarian lobbies replaced the French people as the sovereign power of the republic?” she asked in a statement.

Government spokesperson Najat Vallaud-Belkacem on Thursday confirmed that no conscience clause would be added to the law.

But she went on to add, “We have to make sure that, if a mayor refuses to perform such a marriage for personal reasons, he can easily delegate it to one of his deputies or even more broadly to other officials who will perform the marriage.”

Mayors already delegate marriages when they are unable to carry them out but legal experts say that, if they were to actively refuse to celebrate them for a stated reason, they would be in breach of the law.

Gay rights groups may find that Vallaud-Belkacem’s statement leaves the door open to changes to other legislation to accommodate conscience-stricken Catholics and right-wingers.

Pressed as to what would happen if no official could be found to carry out a same-sex marriage in a municipality, she said that regional prefects might have to use coercion.

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