The mayor of the town of Arcangues, in southwest France, has refused to marry a gay couple, and as well as facing a backlash from the LGBT community, he could face charges of discrimination.
Jean-Michel Colo could be sentenced for discrimination, which carries penalties of up to five years in prison and up to a €75,000 (£63,000) fine, for refusing the marriage of Guy Martineau-Espel, and his long-time partner Jean-Michel Martin.
The couple said they were surprised when their application was rejected, reports Agence France-Presse. The couple had attempted to avoid drawing attention to the situation, and had tried to compromise, offering to marry outside of the traditional marriage hall, but Mayor Colo still refused.
The Mayor denied accusations of homophobia, but instead described the equal marriage law, passed last month by France’s National Assembly, as illegitimate.
“Everyone does what they want behind closed bedroom doors, but if you ask me as the mayor to support it, then I am very uncomfortable with it,” he said.
Some reports quote the mayor as having said: “For me, marriage is for a woman and man to have children. I am not discriminating as a same-sex couple is sterile. It’s a parody of equality, it’s a big lie.”
Despite not wishing to cause a fuss, the couple now plan to take the case to court, where it is likely that Colo’s refusal will be overruled.
As well as facing possible jail time, or fines, the mayor could be removed from office, or face suspension.
Speaking to La Figaro, the Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls, said: “The elects who do not respect the laws of the republic will risk significant sanctions.”
Despite these warnings, Colo has still refused to back down, saying: “I will go to the gallows.”
Colo’s remarks have been noted as significant, as he is the first French mayor to refuse to marry a same-sex couple, despite the passage of the equal marriage bill last month.
Following months of sometimes violent protests, and a substantial rise in homophobic attacks, French President Hollande signed the law making France the fourteenth country in the world to allow equal marriage last month.
Vincent Autin, a 40-year-old PR firm head, and his husband Bruno Boileau, a 29-year-old government worker, were the first same-sex couple to be married in Montpellier’s town hall last Wednesday afternoon, with security on high alert.
The City’s Mayor Helene Mandroux, officiated, called the ceremony an “historic moment”, and said the couple represented a “united France”.
One of the leaders of France’s vocal anti-equal marriage campaign sent her “best wishes” to Vincent and Bruno, but vowed to keep fighting to now attempt a repeal of the country’s new equal marriage law.