The French Court of Appeal has overturned a previous court judgement against parliamentarian Christian Vanneste.

In 2006 Vanneste, an MP for President Sarkozy’s UMP party, was convicted of homophobic speech and fined under anti-discrimination laws after stating that among other things “homosexuality was inferior to heterosexuality, and could be dangerous for humanity.”

The Court of Appeal (Cour de Cassation) overturned the lower court ruling, in the name of freedom of speech, stating that “if the disputed remarks were able to hurt the feelings of certain homosexual people, their contents do not go beyond the limits of freedom of expression.”

Vanneste had been condemned under the 2004 law that prohibits discrimination or insults directed “towards a person or a group of people on the basis of their sex, sexual orientation or disability.”

The overturning of this ruling has raised concerns amongst gay rights groups such as the LGBT Centre of Paris-Gay, who said that it could hurt the”fragile gains” that have been made in gay rights in France.

Lawyer and academic Caroline Mécary said:

“At a time when people from all sides are beginning to be in favour or the Proclamation for true equality, the court’s decision appears to come from another age.’

Vanneste applauded the courts decision.

“That proves that we are in France, the fatherland of Voltaire, where one can express his ideas without having on the back a badgering lobby and a badly informed justice,” he said.

He defended his earlier remarks in an interview with the Evangelical Protestant Committee for Human Dignity.

“The Court of Appeal seeks to say very clearly that I have expressed perfectly acceptable opinions within a framework of normal democratic debate…and they are shared by the majority. They consist in particular in saying that one can obviously judge behaviour on a moral level.”

Prominent French politicians have spoken out in response to the ruling with UMP member Jean-Luc Romero calling for Vanneste to be expelled from the party.

But with his nomination renewed in January this year Vanneste remains secure as an MP, a fact which is some see as signifying a tacit approbation of his views.

Since the ruling Vanneste posted a blog on November 16th with the headline: ‘No to the homosexual propaganda in schools!’ protesting against the campaign against homophobia launched in French schools in July this year.