The dozens of invitees were carefully seated along the lengthy table, flanked by columns fashioned out of Bagnères marble and surrounded by paintings from Spain’s Francisco de Goya.
As photos of the Nato dinner at Spain’s royal palace filtered out, many were swift to spot what one Spanish news site described as the image of the summit: the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, seated next to Gauthier Destenay, the first same-sex spouse of a leader of an EU member state.
Amid speculation as to whether the seating arrangement was intentional – perhaps a nod to this month’s Pride celebrations – or whether it was simply the mysterious hand of protocol working its magic, Spain’s royal palace did not respond to a request for comment.
The eye-catching seating arrangement came one year after Destenay’s husband, Luxembourg’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel, blasted Orbán over a Hungarian law banning any portrayal of LGBT people in materials meant for children.
“To be nationally blamed, to be considered as not normal, to be considered a danger for young people – it’s not realising that being gay is not a choice,” said Bettel, who in 2015 became the first EU leader to marry someone of the same sex.
“But being intolerant is a choice,” Bettel continued.
He urged Orbán at the time to consider the potential harm the law could have on young people. “I didn’t get up one morning after having seen an advert on the TV of some brand … That’s not how life works. It’s in me, I didn’t choose it. And to accept oneself is hard enough, so to be stigmatised too, that’s too much.”
The couple have, at times unwittingly, ended up in the headlines when Destenay has taken time off from his architectural practice to accompany his husband on state visits and summits.
Speaking to Paris Match in 2018, Destenay said he attended these officials events “without asking questions or telling myself that there’s a message to convey”. He later added: “But if it can help to change mindsets, so much the better.”