Luxembourg PM marries

Xavier Bettel and Gauthier Destenay say 'I do'


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(CS) Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and his partner Gauthier Destenay arrived hand in hand at the capital's town hall on Friday afternoon for their wedding.

The pair said "I do" in a late afternoon civil service.

With the press already waiting for the happy couple, around 250 people had gathered to cheer on the Premier and his long-time partner.

Following the ceremony, Bettel and Destenay briefly popped outside to the delight of the well-wishers. Bettel took a moment to say that he wishes everyone to be as happy in their lives as he is and thanking the public, before the pair headed back inside.

Luxembourg City mayor Lydie Polfer officiated the wedding, saying to RTL on the day that she met Bettel for the first time when he was nine years old. She was visiting his school after she had been appointed mayor of the capital for the first time.

"I wouldn't have thought that 33 years later I would officiate his wedding and that to as lovely a man as Gauthier," she said.

Also interviewed by RTL, Destenay's mother said she was very proud and happy for the couple for taking this step together.

Rather little is known about Destenay, who comes from Belgium and works as an architect. Like most public officials in Luxembourg, Bettel keeps his private life largely out of the public eye. Thus, the media were not invited to join the wedding celebrations this weekend and only caught a short glimpse of the newlyweds on the steps of the town hall.

Destenay has in the past occasionally accompanied Bettel to official events, such as the royal wedding of Prince Guillaume and Princess Stéphanie in October 2012 or the annual national day festivities, taking on a similarly unassuming role as the partners of previous prime ministers.

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Among the guests spotted in the crowd was Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, who was seen chatting to reporters. He commented that he was happy to be there to attend the wedding of his friend, and wishing the couple all the best.

Also on site were a number of fellow members of government, such as Deputy PM Etienne Schneider, also openly gay, Justice Minister Félix Braz and Infrastructure Minister François Bausch.

French broadcaster and personal friend Stéphane Bern also attended the wedding, commenting afterwards that the ceremony had been very moving with not a dry eye in the house. He also said that it was an important signal for Luxembourg to send of openness and tolerance at a time of rising homophobia in Europe.

The event attracted some interest from the international press, with Xavier Bettel the first EU leader to marry a same-sex partner and only the second serving head of government worldwide, after Iceland's former Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, who married Jónína Leósdóttir during her time in office in 2010.

Following the ceremony, Bettel and Destenay hosted a reception for around 500 guests at the Cercle Cité in Place d'Armes. The celebrations were expected to continue Saturday at Michelin-star decorated restaurant La Gaichel.

According to reports a brunch is scheduled for Sunday morning to end the wedding weekend with family and friends.

Bettel publicly came out as gay during a 2008 television appearance on RTL. In 2010 he entered a registered partnership with Destenay. The Luxembourg PM revealed to the LA Times last August that his partner had asked for his hand in marriage and that he had said "yes". 

After serving as an MP and Luxembourg City mayor, Bettel succeeded Prime Minister of 18 years Jean-Claude Juncker following general elections in October 2013. The PM is also the leader of the Democratic Party, which is in a coalition government with the Socialist LSAP and the Green party, déi Gréng.

Marriage reform in Luxembourg

The Luxembourg parliament last year voted in favour of same-sex marriage and adoption, with 56 out 60 MPs supporting the bill that was first introduced under the previous government in May 2012 but underwent a number of changes, for example in regards to adoption rights.

In a first draft only open adoption was to be granted to homosexual couples, while closed adoption, in which all ties to the birth parents are severed, was to be reserved for heterosexual couples. However, the updated text from June 2014 did away with this differentiation.

The bill also covered several other legal issues related to marriage, such as raising the minimum age to marry to 18 for both partners and abolishing an obligatory pre-wedding medical exam. It also introduced a number of measures aimed at combating sham and forced marriages.

Three MPs of the Conservative ADR party voted against the bill, as well as one MP of the Christian Socialist CSV.

A citizen activist group had tried to stop the bill with an online petition. Launched through the Chamber of Deputies, official petitions can force a debate in parliament if they gather over 4,500 signatures, which could have delayed the vote.

However, the petition, introduced by the so-called Initiative for the Protection of the Child, failed to garner the necessary number of signatures online. Taking issue less with same-sex marriage, the group voiced concern over extending adoption rights to same-sex couples, arguing that children had the right to both a mother and a father.

A January 2014 public opinion poll had shown 83 percent of respondents supporting same-sex marriage and 55 percent in favour of adoption by same-sex couples. At the same time over 70 percent of the Grand Duchy's population identify as Catholic.

Having passed parliament, the law came into force on January 1 this year, with the first same-sex wedding officiated that day in Differdange. While normally closed for the public holiday, mayor Roberto Traversini made an exception for Jean Paul Olinger and Henri Lorenzo Huber who were the first same-sex couple to exchange their vows in Luxembourg.