Pressure is mounting on a French government minister to quit over comments stigmatising homosexuality and LGBTQ people, in the latest challenge to President Emmanuel Macron’s leadership.
Caroline Cayeux’s remarks have hurt and angered many – including her colleagues – and prompted broader discussion around persistent discriminatory attitudes by people in power.
More than 100 prominent figures published an appeal Sunday in the newspaper Journal du dimanche questioning why she’s still in government. Signatories included parliament members, senior officials, an Olympic medalist, doctors, artists, an ex-prime minister, a former top Macron adviser and others from within Macron’s centrist political camp.
Cayeux, the minister for regional relations, was asked in an interview this week about her opposition to France’s 2013 law authorising gay marriage and adoption, and comments at the time saying they were “against nature.” Speaking Tuesday to broadcaster Public Senat, she said she was being wrongly painted as prejudiced.
“I maintain my remarks. I always said that if the law were voted, I would apply it,” she said. ”I have a lot of friends among all those people, and I’m being targeted by an unfair trial. This upsets me.” The remarks set off shockwaves among LGBTQ people and provoked calls for her resignation. A legal complaint was filed against her for public insult.
Cayeux then tweeted her regrets, saying her words were “inappropriate,” and sent a letter to anti-discrimination groups to apologize. She told newspaper Le Parisien that the comments “do not at all reflect my views.” Many question the sincerity of her change of heart, and say the damage has been done.
“How can we believe that the government will respect equality among everyone, will commit to fighting discrimination and guarantee gender freedom?” asks an online petition by LGBTQ groups calling for the resignation of Cayeux and two other government members who opposed the gay marriage law. The petition calls them “spokespersons for hate and rejection.” But her bosses appear to be sticking by Cayeux. Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said Friday that Cayeux’s remarks were “clumsy” but welcomed her apology, and said Cayeux would be “vigilant” going forward to support the fight against anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
The issue has divided the government at a time when Macron is politically weakened after losing his majority in parliament.
Transport Minister Clément Beaune, who is gay, called Cayeux’s comments “extremely hurtful.” Government spokesman Olivier Veran called them out of touch with the times.
In Sunday’s published appeal, the signatories called on the government to set a better example and defend France’s values of equality.
They celebrated “those people” that Cayeux referred to, noting that LGBTQ soldiers were among those marching in Thursday’s Bastille Day parade, and LGBTQ people work in local and national government and France’s security forces.
“We are proud of all those people who, through their dignified and discreet behaviour, know how to serve the Republic better than she does,” it concluded.