French legislator assailed for anti-gay remarks

February 15, 2012 - 1:25 PM

PARIS (AP) — President Nicolas Sarkozy's party said Wednesday it is kicking out a legislator who said gay people hold too much sway in France and downplayed the persecution of gays during World War II.

The comments by lawmaker Christian Vanneste unleashed an outpouring of criticism from left and right, and embarrassed Sarkozy's conservative party just as the unpopular president was expected to announce that he will seek a second term in upcoming elections.

Vanneste looks set to lose his spot in the UMP party and his parliament seat over the remarks.

In a video broadcast on a French website, Vanneste said gays are "at the heart of power" in France, manipulating the media and making humankind "lose its dignity."

He said the media overplays "the famous legend of the deportation of homosexuals" from Nazi-occupied France, saying German gays were sent to concentration camps, but "there was no homosexual deportation in France."

Gay rights groups denounced him and UMP members said he had crossed a line. Vanneste, responding Wednesday to the uproar, said he was being unfairly targeted by a "gay lobby."

UMP chief Jean-Francois Cope said Wednesday that Vanneste would be expelled because of his "deeply shocking and intolerable comments."

The party will finalize the decision at a meeting next week, Cope said. Vanneste could no longer be the UMP's candidate for parliament from his district in northern France in legislative elections in June.

Vanneste has made remarks seen as disparaging to gays in the past, but touched a particularly sensitive chord by referring to World War II.

It was 1995 before France's then-President Jacques Chirac acknowledged the nation's responsibility for the deportation of Jews during the war. Denying the Holocaust is a crime punishable by prison and fines in France, and some critics accused Vanneste of negationism.

Nazi Germany declared homosexuality an aberration that threatened the German race, and thousands of gay men were sent to concentration camps, where few survived.

In France the numbers were much lower, according to the author of a book on deportation of French homosexuals. Mickael Bertrand says on his blog that exact figures are hard to pin down, but that his research found 62 French people were deported for being gay.

Wednesday's uproar puts Sarkozy's party in a tough spot as he seeks to garner support from the far right to bolster his weak chances for his presidential campaign.

Polls put Sarkozy in a distant second behind Socialist candidate Francois Hollande ahead of the April and May elections, with far right candidate Marine Le Pen in a close third.

Sarkozy opposes gay marriage, though recent polls suggest a majority of French voters support it. Vanneste is part of the influential hard-right wing of Sarkozy's party.

"He is speaking of homosexuals like they spoke of Jews in the 1930s, speaking of a kind of lobby that infiltrates the media ... that has no place in the UMP, those are not our values," Emmanuel Blanc, the president of GayLib, a gay rights group affiliated with the UMP, said on France-Info radio.

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Angela Charlton contributed to this report.