PARIS (AP) — French government ministers are under mounting pressure to resign in the latest challenge to President Emmanuel Macron’s leadership.
Caroline Cayeux’s remarks hurt and angered many, including her colleagues, and sparked a wider discussion around persistent discriminatory attitudes among those in power.
On Sunday, more than 100 prominent personalities published an appeal in the Journal du dimanche, questioning why she was still in government. Signatories include members of parliament, senior officials, Olympic medalists, doctors, artists, former prime ministers, former senior Macron advisers and others in Macron’s centrist political camp.
Cayeux was asked in an interview this week about her opposition to France’s 2013 law authorizing gay marriage and adoption, when she commented that it was “unnatural”. Speaking to broadcaster Public Senat on Tuesday, she said she had been wrongly portrayed as biased.
“I stand by my words. I always say that if the law passes the ballot, I will implement it,” she said. “I have a lot of friends among these people, and I’m being targeted for an unfair trial. It upsets me.”
The remarks caused an uproar among LGBTQ people and those opposed to discrimination and abuse, and sparked calls for her to step down. She was charged with legal action for public insults.
Cayo later expressed regret on Twitter, calling her remarks “inappropriate” and sent a letter to the anti-discrimination group apologizing. The comments “do not reflect my views at all”, she told Le Parisien.
Many questioned her sincerity in changing her mind and said the damage had been done.
“How can we trust the government to respect equality for everyone, to fight discrimination and to guarantee gender freedom?” LGBTQ groups demanded the resignation of Cayeux and two other government members who oppose gay marriage laws in an online petition. The petition called them “the voices of hatred and rejection”.
But her bosses seem to be sticking with Cayeux. Prime Minister Elizabeth Bohn said on Friday that Cayo’s remarks were “clumsy” but welcomed her apology and said Cayo would be “vigilant” in support of the fight against anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
The issue has divided the government at a time when Macron is politically weakened after losing his parliamentary majority.
Transport Minister Clément Beaune, who is gay, called Cayo’s remarks “very hurtful”. Government spokesman Olivier Whelan called them out of touch with the times.
In the call released on Sunday, the signatories called on the government to set a better example and defend France’s values of equality.
They celebrated “those people” Cayeux referred to, noting that LGBTQ soldiers were among those who took part in the Bastille Day parade in Paris on Thursday, with LGBTQ people working in local and national governments and French security forces.
“We are proud of all those who, through their dignified and discreet conduct, knew how to serve the Republic better than she did,” it concluded.