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04/12/2016

Luxembourg PM is first openly gay EU leader to marry

Languages & Culture

Luxembourg PM is first openly gay EU leader to marry

Xavier Bettel [European Council]

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel is to wed his partner today (15 May), becoming the first European Union leader to enter into a same sex marriage, a symbol of growing social change across the continent.

Bettel, 42, a centre-right politician who became premier in 2013, will marry Gauthier Destenay, a Belgian architect, just months after the conservative Roman Catholic duchy legalised gay weddings.

The low key ceremony at the town hall in Luxembourg is being deliberately kept out of the media spotlight and will be followed by weekend-long private celebrations for about 500 guests, sources said.

Among those invited is Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. Former Belgian PM Elio di Rupo was the first openly gay man to lead a EU country.

As well as being the first leader in the 28-nation EU to wed a partner of the same sex, Bettel is only the second in the world after Iceland’s prime minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, who married her writer partner in 2010.

On the eve of his marriage to Destenay, Bettel said he had not wanted to hide his sexuality.

“I could have hidden it or repressed it and been unhappy my whole life. I could have had relations with someone of the other sex while having homosexual relations in secret,” he told Belgium’s RTBF public television.

“But I told myself that if you want to be a politician be honest in politics, you have to be honest with yourself and to accept that you are who you are.”

Same sex marriage was approved by Luxembourg’s parliament in June 2014 and the first weddings took place on 1 January, 2015.

In August, Bettel said he would marry Destenay with whom he has been in a civil union since 2010. “He asked me and I said ‘yes,'” he told the Los Angeles Times.

‘Warm and sympathetic’

Stephane Bern, a broadcaster who is a friend of Bettel, told the Luxemburger Wort daily, “Everyone finds this to be a very warm and sympathetic symbol.”

“Xavier Bettel wants to stay discreet, there is nothing ostentatious about this ceremony, but the symbolism is very strong – it shows he is a reformist prime minister.”

Indeed Bettel symbolises political as well as social change in Luxembourg, a small very wealthy country nestled between Belgium, Germany and France that was one of the founding members of what became the EU.

He replaced the now-European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker as prime minister in December 2013, ending the grizzled veteran’s 19 years of conservative leadership with a promise to modernise the country.

The newlyweds will briefly pose for the media after exchanging their vows in front of Lydie Polfer, Bettel’s successor as mayor of Luxembourg.

They will then host cocktails at the Cercle Cite municipal building, which housed the original court of justice of the European Coal and Steel Community, the EU’s ancestor.

But they have postponed their honeymoon because of Bettel’s busy political schedule which includes Luxembourg taking over the rotating presidency of the EU on 1 July.

Bettel is also campaigning to win a 7 June referendum on a series of reforms, including limiting the premier’s term to ten years and cutting the voting age to 16 years.

Paul Henri Meyer, a lawmaker from Juncker’s Christian Social People’s party (CSV) said the tiny duchy was becoming a standard bearer for social change across the EU despite its strong Roman Catholic leanings.

“People of the same sex can now also apply for adoption in Luxembourg,” he said.