Issues - gender bias - Sexist insults
The French cabinet yesterday gave its backing
to a bill authorising penalties of up to a year in jail for
anyone found guilty of making an anti-gay or sexist remark.
"This law puts the fight against homophobia and sexism
on the same footing, legally speaking, as the fight against
racism and anti-semitism," said the justice minister,
"It demonstrates a real willingness to defend those who,
because of their choice of life or their personal preferences,
risk being singled out, attacked and otherwise shaken in their
The bill will allow French courts to hand down a fine of €45,000
(£30,000) and up to 12 months in prison for "defamation
or incitement to discrimination, hatred or violence on the
grounds of a person's sex or sexual orientation".
Proffering an anti-gay insult in public - including any remark
"of a more general nature tending to denigrate homosexuals
as a whole" - could fetch a fine of €22,500 and
six months' jail.
The seven-article bill, due to go before parliament next month,
is a response to an increase in verbal and physical attacks
recorded against homosexuals in France last year.
The number of violent acts against gays more than doubled
to 86 in 2003, compared with 41 in 2002.
The bill was also inspired by a longstanding wish of French
gay and feminist groups to see sexist and homophobic insults
classed as slander.
One particularly horrifying incident prompted Mr Perben to
suggest the bill should be known as the "Nouchet law"
after Sebastian Nouchet, a young gay man who spent 15 days
in a coma with third-degree burns after being doused with
petrol and burned at his home in Noeud-les-Mines, near Calais,
The attack followed months of vicious harassment by a group
Jacques Chirac said yesterday that he wanted the bill to "stop
such exceptionally serious acts in their tracks".
The president added: "What is at risk here is essential,
namely equality, respect and the protection to which every
citizen of the republic is entitled."
While broadly welcoming the government's move, several gay
and feminist associations said the bill did not go far enough.
Newspaper and magazine publishers and the journalists' group
Reporters sans Frontières warned that it was likely
to provoke an avalanche of lawsuits and could in some cases
infringe free speech laws.
Other opponents have said the bill is merely a sop offered
to the gay community by the centre-right government in compensation
for its determined - and very public - opposition to gay marriages.
A Green MP and mayor of the southwestern town of Bégles,
Noel Mamére, was this week stripped of his local mandate
for a month days after officiating at France's first gay wedding.
A Bordeaux court is likely soon to pronounce the union invalid.
Britain has no specific penalties laid down in law for homophobic
or sexist insults or violence.