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LES ECHOS

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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