France mayors 'cannot block gay marriage' - top court

Anti same-sex marriage vigil in Nantes, France, on 28 August 2013
Image caption The bill allowing same-sex marriages has aroused stronger than expected opposition in France

France's highest court has ruled that mayors cannot refuse to hold same-sex marriage ceremonies on the grounds that it conflicts with their beliefs.

A group of mayors had challenged a law recognising same-sex marriage that took effect in May.

The Constitutional Council rejected their argument that the law infringed their freedom of conscience.

President Hollande made legalising gay marriage his flagship social reform, but it sparked mass protests.

The issue aroused stronger than expected opposition in France, with opinion polls suggesting nearly half of the population oppose gay marriage.

Protests against the bill attracted some of the biggest public demonstrations seen in France in decades.

Next steps

In a five-page ruling, the Constitutional Court said it was not unconstitutional for public officials to be required to officiate at same-sex marriages regardless of any personal objections.

The government did not include an opt-out clause within the legislation "to assure the law is applied by its agents and to guarantee the proper functioning and neutrality of public service," the court noted.

"Freedom of conscience is not violated by officiating at weddings," it said.

The group of seven mayors had argued that the lack of an opt-out clause violated the French constitution.

A spokesman for the group, Franck Meyer, said they would take their case to the European Court of Human Rights "because we are local elected representatives and we have a right to express the diversity of opinion in French society".

President Francois Hollande and his ruling Socialist Party vowed to legalise same-sex marriage following their election in 2012.

But the bill was dogged by fierce debate in parliament, legal challenges and massive street protests before it became law on 17 May.

France became the 14th country worldwide - and the ninth in Europe - to legalise gay marriage.

Since the law was passed some 600 gay couples have been married.

In the handful of cases where mayors have refused to conduct the ceremonies, their deputies have stepped in.

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