Stating that “homosexual behaviour endangers the survival of humanity” and that “heterosexuality is morally superior to homosexuality” can cost you dearly in France. Exactly these opinions, expressed by the French politician Christian Vanneste last year, led to him being sentenced on Tuesday to payment of a heavy fine.
A court in Lille [Rijsel in Dutch], in the French northern province of Flanders (adjacent to the Belgian Dutch-speaking region of Flanders), ruled that Mr Vanneste has to pay a fine of 3,000 euro plus 3,000 euro in damages to each of the three gay organisations that had taken him to court. The politician, a member of the French National Assembly for the governing UMP, also has to pay for the verdict to be published in the leftist Parisian newspaper Le Monde, the regional Lille daily La Voix du Nord, and the weekly magazine L’Express.
Les Flamands Roses (The Pink Flemings), a gay activist group from the North of France, applauded the verdict, saying that freedom of speech does not allow “incitement to homophobic hatred.” Mr Vanneste had been taken to court because of what he had said in a recorded discussion with activists of the ‘Pink Flemings.’
Tuesday’s verdict is the first conviction on the basis of the French anti-homophobia bill of 30 December 2004, one of France’s draconian laws prohibiting so-called “hate crimes.” According to the ‘Pink Flemings’ Mr Vanneste abuses freedom of expression “in order to insult and discriminate gay men and women.” He is, they say,
“a typical representative of the Sarkozy Right, the extreme right and all sorts of integrists. This truly reactionary lobby, of which Christian Vanneste wants to be the spokesman, is in favour of the death penalty. Moreover, it denies women the right to dispose over their own bodies and sexuality. It wants to propagate the ‘positive results’ of colonisation and even of a society based on ‘merits,’ where people’s rights are attributed in function of their origin and social behaviour.”
Act Up-Paris, one of the three gay organisations Mr Vanneste has to pay damages to, is demanding that Nicolas Sarkozy, the French interior minister and leader of the UMP, ousts Vanneste from his party:
“The UMP and the entire political class have to take up their responsibility. This judicial verdict is the first encouraging sign that society is no longer willing to tolerate the intolerable, especially when the homophobia emanates from an elected politician.”
If Mr. Sarkozy does not throw Mr Vanneste out of the party this means, according to Act Up-Paris, that he considers homophobia to be acceptable. Act Up-Paris also says that it will no longer tolerate politicians who speak out against gay marriage and the adoption of children by homosexuals:
“Is it normal that MPs and mayors say that we are ‘dangerous’ for the children we raise? Is it normal that, while the judiciary begins to recognize the harm homophobia does to society, elected politicians say these things? Do we systematically have to go to court in order to make these people realize how their words affect our lives?”
According to Act Up-Paris Mr Sarkozy, who met the organisation in his office last year, had promised them to publicly condemn homophobia and exclude Mr Vanneste from the party if he should relapse.
Christian Vanneste announced that he would appeal the verdict. He said the Lille judges, in convicting him for expressing his opinions on homosexuality “have breached the separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislative because, as an MP, I had said in public what I had previously said in Parliament.”
There is little doubt that the governing politicians of Eastern European countries such as Poland, as well as the Pope, would be convicted in contemporary France for voicing their “homophobic” opinions. Perhaps Mr Vanneste should consider asking for political asylum in the United States, where freedom of speech is guaranteed in the first amendment.
Conscience, How Dost Thou Afflict Me! 7 January 2006