Frenchman Frederic Minvielle has been a productive, happy resident of the Netherlands for the past six years, and even married a Dutch national in 2003. But his placid existence took on Kafkaesque twist earlier this year, when French authorities informed Minvielle that his expatriate idyll had cost him his French citizenship. The main reason, according to Minvielle and his supporters: because his spouse was another man.
The Netherlands recognizes official gay unions, but France does not. That, in essence, is what led to the revocation of Minvielle’s French citizenship, though the bilateral Franco-Dutch immigration accords pertaining to the case are complex.
The trouble began when Minvielle adopted his Dutch husband’s citizenship in 2006 — a right extended to foreign spouses of officially wed couples in the Netherlands, whether gay or heterosexual. Indeed, Minvielle says the main motivation for his naturalization was to show gratitude to a Dutch society that makes no distinction between gay and heterosexual marriages. Although the Franco-Dutch immigration treaty pertaining to his situation generally forces nationals from one country to surrender their original citizenship when naturalized in the other, there is a key exception that allows dual citizenship accorded through marriage. Minvielle figured that would work for him.
“France does not recognize marriage between people of the same sex as the Netherlands does, and therefore considers Mr. Minvielle an unwed man living with another man,” explains Minvielle’s French lawyer, Caroline Mecary. Because of that, she says, France has applied the bilateral accord the way it would to any single French national adopting Dutch nationality: by revoking French citizenship. “It marks French exportation of marriage laws discriminatory to same-sex couples to its citizens abroad,” Mecary continues. “In this case, that means applying French laws to a citizen with the result of stripping him of that very citizenship. That has proven to be a staggering loss to Mr. Minvielle.”
Minvielle was not available to respond to TIME’s requests to discuss his case, but he has told French media he feels humiliated and repudiated by his native country. In addition to feeling cast off by his motherland, he says, Minvielle has also said being shorn of the liberties and legal rights attendant to French citizenship has left him feeling like he’s been treated as a criminal.
Ironically, it was his effort to exercise his rights and duties as a citizen that led to Minvielle’s troubles. Following his visit to the French embassy in Amsterdam in late 2006 to register for France’s then approaching presidential elections, consular officials forwarded Minvielle’s dossier to justice authorities for examination. When the review ruled that he had surrendered his French citizenship according to terms of the bilateral accord — and in light of France’s refusal to recognize gay marriage — Minvielle was ordered to surrender his passport and French papers last December.
Despite the summons, Minvielle has held on to his French documents, and is fighting to have his citizenship restored. There may be hope of that happening. Mecary says she has been told by French and European authorities that France has applied to revise the terms of its bilateral accords with the Netherlands to take into account social and legal changes that have taken place in both countries since its last update in 1996. Though Mecary says she’s still awaiting official confirmation of that move, she notes it would only be the first hurdle. “When it comes to decisions of citizenship, especially revocations based on legal grounds, the state is entirely free to do as it chooses,” she warns.
Still, Mecary hopes France will do right by native son Minvielle, if for no other reason than to avoid more bad publicity over gay rights. Last January, Mecary notes, the European Court of Justice overturned French court rulings barring a single lesbian from adopting a child, judging French regulations blocking the adoption to be discriminatory. Meanwhile, France’s history of social enlightenment and pride as the birthplace of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been overshadowed as nations like Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands have passed progressive laws on gay rights while the French have lagged behind. Given that, critics argue the real solution to resolving Minvielle’s case isn’t tinkering with bilateral treaties, but modernizing marriage laws in France.