French Mayor Refuses To Marry Gay Couple, Could Face Harsh Penalties

Jean-Michel Colo, the mayor of the village of Arcangues, in the western Pyrenees, arrives prior to a press conference on June
Jean-Michel Colo, the mayor of the village of Arcangues, in the western Pyrenees, arrives prior to a press conference on June 5, 2013. Jean-Michel Colo is the first mayor in France to refuse to marry homosexual couples since the recent passing of a new French law which legalized gay marriage nationwide. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)

Gay marriage may now be legal in France, but some same-sex couples are still facing obstacles.

Jean-Michel Colo incited widespread backlash Friday, when the French mayor refused to marry a gay couple in Arcangues, a town in southwestern France. However, responses from lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups are not the only thing Colo faces for his marriage refusal. According to a regional office of France's Ministry of the Interior, the French mayor could be sentenced for discrimination, which carries penalties including up to five years jail time and a 75,000 euro fine (about $99,000), Le Parisien reports.

Guy Martineau-Espel and his long-time partner Jean-Michel Martin, who live in Arcangues, recently applied to wed but were taken aback when their application was rejected, the Agence France-Presse reports. Though Martin said they initially sought to make as little fuss as possible and even offered the mayor a compromise -- they would marry outside the traditional marriage hall -- Colo remained resolved in his refusal.

The Arcangues mayor explained that he is not homophobic and instead cited the illegitimacy of the law as the reason for refusing to officiate the ceremony.

"Everyone does what he wants when he closed the door of his bedroom but if you ask me as the mayor to support it, then I am very uncomfortable with it," he told the AFP last week.

The couple plans to take their case to court, where the mayor's refusal will likely be overruled given the remarks made by Minister of the Interior Manuel Valls, who oversees relations between the national and local governments.

"The elects who do not respect the laws of the republic will risk significant sanctions," he said, according to Le Figaro. Among the threat of jail time and a fine, the mayor could also face suspension or have his mayorship revoked.

However, despite the threatened sanctions, Colo is refusing to back down.

"I will go to the gallows," the French mayor told Le Figaro.

Colo's remarks are significant since he is the first French mayor to publicly refuse to marry a gay couple following the passage of France's "marriage for all" legislation. While many French mayors expressed their disdain with the legislation last year and proposed a "conscience clause" be appended so they would not be forced to perform gay marriage in their towns, the bill passed without the addition, meaning the mayors would be required to follow the law.



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