Gay Marriage: Meanwhile In France...

Trailing other Western European countries -- and several U.S. States -- in gay rights laws, France has again opted against legalizing gay marriage. Still, same-sex French couples are increasingly making sure civil union ceremonies walk and talk like a wed

 (Guillaume Paumier)
(Guillaume Paumier)
Anne Chemin

PARIS - On a warm spring day in Paris' 20th arrondissement, the couple says their respective vows and exchanges rings in a room designated for civil wedding ceremonies. Both are wearing ties. Their parents sit in the front row. And when the couple leaves the city hall building, they do so under a traditional shower of rice.

"It was very moving and very cheerful," Nicolas Martin, one of the "newlyweds' later says. "But it wasn't a real marriage."

Nicolas and his partner, Charly Bordier, have what's known in France as a PACS, a civil union contract available for both same-sex and hetersexual couples. Technically speaking, however, they are not married. France has explored the possibility, but so far refused to grant marriage rights to homosexual couples, as has happened in other European countries like Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and most recently, Portugal.

On June 14 – just 10 days before New York became the largest U.S. state to allow same-sex marriage –the National Assembly voted down France's latest gay marriage proposal.

Like many same-sex couples, however, Nicolas and Charly still wanted to have the experience of a wedding. "The 20th district city hall hosts wedding ceremonies for couples who signed the civil pact of solidarity, and we wanted to have one too," says Martin.

The couple signed their PACS more than a year ago, on April 22, 2010, in a Parisian magistrates' court. A photo taken that day shows Nicolas and Charly sitting on plastic chairs next to a fire extinguisher. They are in a large corridor, where they wait for the woman clerk of the court to sign the contract.

"Obviously it was not very festive," Charly says with a sigh. "The woman clerk of the court told us that some couples had improvised short wedding ceremonies in her office. Some of them even had brought a cake."

Charly works as a cook for a Parisian caterer. Nicolas is a radio producer. They have been living together for several years, but it's important for them that people recognize their union in a legal sense.

"We are like any other couple. We want to show that we are in a serious relationship, that we are not just having a passing love affair. A commitment is something that shows what we feel for each other," Nicolas explains. "Signing a PACS is a way to tell everyone that I want to spend the rest of my life with Charly."

So too was having a proper wedding party – especially since marriage, legally speaking, is still forbidden to couples like Nicolas and Charly. In addition to the recent ceremony they held in Paris, the couple also celebrated their union in a 12th century church, which was turned, for the occasion, into a village hall. They invited 120 guests, served wine in a Tourangelle cellar and had a huge cake.

"It was the most conventional PACS in the whole history of creation," Nicolas says. "We were asked to make a speech, we stammered for a bit, and finally we just thanked all the people who came to the wedding, all the people who accept us the way we are."

By celebrating their union with great pomp, Nicolas and Charlie were hoping to break the embarrassed silence that sometimes preys on the minds of some gay couples. "There's no reason why you shouldn't talk about it," says Nicolas. "You can live like this and introduce your life partner as a friend. Everybody will understand and you won't have to say it literally. In this way, things will be much easier for you."

Love on the Loire

Amantine Revol and Virginie Lemerle have a similar story. The two women want to live openly. "We don't want to provoke anyone, we just want to act normally, and to not feel compelled to be discreet when we're together," Amantine explains. "We are not preaching anything. We didn't decide to become gay. The only choice we have is to learn to live with it or not. Things have not always been easy for us, but Virginie and I, we have chosen to live life to the fullest and to be happy. And we are!"

Amantine is a town planner. Virginie works as a firefighter. They live in a small village inhabited by 400 people near Angers – a city in the Maine-et-Loire department in western France. Their daughter Malou is enrolled in classes taught by a child caregiver living in the village. "There haven't been any problems," Amantine says. "The child caregiver was very friendly. She just asked us how we should be called – mom or something else – and what we were doing for Mother's day."

When they signed a PACS six years ago, Amantine and Virginie decided to celebrate their union like Charly and Nicolas did – with some serious razzle-dazzle. They exchanged rings while on a cruise down the River Loire. Then, they gathered more than a 100 friends and relatives together in an old windmill.

"I was raised in a traditional family, so obviously, I would prefer to have a real wedding. The clerk's office is the place you go to get a divorce, or when you marry on impulse," says Virginie. "We chose to sign a PACS by default. To organize a huge party that finished at 7 a.m..." that is a choice.

Today, Amantine and Virginie would like to marry – for real. Why? Marriage offers more civil benefits than the PACS. It makes it possible for people to have the same last name as their partner. And symbolically, it simply holds more weight.

"Some people say that marriage is outmoded. But not for us," Amantine says with a smile. "It might be outmoded in a few centuries, but today, gay people don't really have the option of thinking it's outmoded, because they don't even have the right to marry! After living together for 11 years, we want to marry." Amantine pauses, then adds: "Don't you think that's cool?"

Read the original article in French.

Photo - Guillaume Paumier

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️


We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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