French Mayors Must Hold Gay Marriage Ceremonies Despite Beliefs, High Court Decides

The Constitutional Council in France has ruled that mayors who are not in favor of same-sex marriage will still have to hold such ceremonies despite their beliefs, following the legalization of the practice earlier this year.

"Freedom of conscience is not violated by officiating at weddings," the court said, according to BBC News. It also added that the government did not create an exemption for officials not in favor of same-sex marriage "to assure the law is applied by its agents and to guarantee the proper functioning and neutrality of public service."

France became the 14th country in the world to officially legalize same-sex marriage in May after President Francois Hollande signed the Assembly-approved bill into law, which also allowed gay couples to adopt children. The law has been met with heavy opposition from supporters of traditional marriage, who have staged a number of mass rallies drawing hundreds of thousands of people.

"This law is going to lead to a change of civilization that we don't want," said Philippe Javaloyes, one of the estimated 340,000 demonstrators at an event in January. "We have nothing against different ways of living, but we think that a child must grow up with a mother and a father."

The French public has shown split opinions on the issue in polls, though many in the government, including justice minister Christine Taubira have insisted that allowing gay couples the right to adopt children is part of the strive for equality.

"These are children that scrape their knees, eat too much candy, don't like broccoli, drive you crazy ... we protect them," Taubira previously said, adding that the law will "move our institutions towards ever more freedom, equality and personal respect."

A group of seven mayors had challenged the law that forced them to hold same-sex marriage ceremonies, arguing that it infringed on their freedom of conscience and that the lack of an opt-out clause violated the French Constitution. The group now plans to bring their case to the European Court of Human Rights.

"The Constitutional Council has been manipulated by politics. It is a political decision," said Jean-Michel Colo, the Mayor of Arcangues in southwest France, according to AFP.

French pro-family group Manif Pour Tous has backed the mayors in their campaign, saying that it supports "all the mayors who courageously dare to assert their right to freedom of conscience."

A petition started by the group in support of the mayors has collected close to 90,000 signatures as of Friday morning.