John M. Becker

France: No Special Opt-Out Rights For Anti-Gay Mayors

Filed By John M. Becker | October 18, 2013 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: conscience, France, France gay marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, religious freedom, religious liberty, same-sex marriage, special rights

gay_couple.jpgOne of the ironic twists in the quest for LGBT equality is that as civil rights for LGBT people, couples, and families advance, anti-gay religious conservatives, who love to frame the push for equal rights as a demand for so-called "special rights," frequently begin demanding special rights themselves.

Two Vermont innkeepers, for example, refused to rent space to a lesbian couple who wished to reserve the inn for their wedding reception, violating Vermont's LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law in the process. When the lesbian couple sued, the innkeepers told the court that same-sex weddings went against their conservative Catholic religious beliefs, as though those beliefs magically waived them of their obligation to follow the law. (They later settled out of court and stopped hosting weddings entirely.)

When Catholic Charities was unable to obtain an exemption from non-discrimination laws in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. that would have allowed them to reject qualified prospective parents on the basis of sexual orientation while continuing to receive public funds, they chose to end adoption services altogether rather than comply. And after New York legalized same-sex marriage in 2011, several evangelical town clerks in the state refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because they claimed that doing so (you know, obeying the law and doing their job) would violate their anti-gay religious beliefs.

In France, where marriage equality was passed in parliament, upheld in court, and signed into law this year, the Constitutional Council has just spanked seven anti-gay mayors who demanded a special exemption from performing same-sex marriages.

Details, after the jump.

Marriages in France can only be solemnized by secular authorities. Mayors are also civil registrars and as such are sometimes called upon to marry couples.

After the marriage equality law passed, a group of seven mayors, including Jean-Michel Colo from the city of Arcangues, filed suit in France's highest court, claiming that they could not marry same-sex couples because performing such unions violate their freedom of conscience.

But in a five-page ruling issued today, the French Constitutional Council rejected that argument, writing that officials' private beliefs were irrelevant to the performance of their public duties. The Council said in a statement, "[In] view of the functions of a state official in the officiating of a marriage, the legislation does not violate their freedom of conscience."

rainbow_eiffel_tower.jpgThe mayors also claimed that President Fran├žois Hollande's government should have included an explicit conscience clause in the marriage equality bill. But the Constitutional Court said that the government was right not to include such language, "to assure the law is applied by its agents and to guarantee the proper functioning and neutrality of public service."

Translation: quit complaining and get back to work.

The mayors have vowed to appeal the ruling to the European Court of Human Rights, but observers say they're not likely to prevail there either: earlier this year the ECHR upheld British laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The court smacked down a group of anti-LGBT Christians who claimed their religious beliefs allowed them to refuse to serve same-sex couples.

So sorry, bigots. When you're an agent of the state, you can't pick and choose which members of the public you wish to serve or which laws you'd like to obey. Your religious freedom does not come at the expense of everyone else's liberty; your religious beliefs do not entitle you to a special right to disobey the law and discriminate.

If you're incapable of fulfilling your public duties, then resign.

Rainbow Eiffel Tower photo the exclusive property of John Becker. Used with permission.

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