I sat in bed on Tuesday morning sipping my green tea with lemon and thinking of Gay marriage. I should explain this took place in Paris. “Ah, all is now explained,” you may say.
Well it is by the fact that on the same day France’s Parliament, the Assemblee Nationale, started the long debate to introduce Gay or same sex marriages which should become law by the middle of the year. Such laws are already the norm in Catholic Spain and Portugal. Indeed in the UK David Cameron is determined to extend the current civil partnerships to include religious services. Hence it may surprise you that in France, which Anglo Saxons have always thought to be liberal in sexual matters, the introduction of this law has caused such acrimony and division.
The left in France has always had the bragging rights when it comes to bringing people out on to the streets over a political or social issue. Hence it is no surprise that according to the police 125,000 activists demonstrated in Paris in support of the new Hollande law on Sunday. The shock comes when you learn 340,000 opposed to the legislation were on the streets of the capital on Tuesday of last week.
Pierre Kanuty, who speaks on international affairs at the Parti Socialiste HQ in Paris told me, “There is a majority in Parliament to pass the law, so there is no serious risk.” Indeed that is so and whilst some PS MPs may abstain the measure is also supported by the Communists, the Greens and some centrists. Not only that but allowing Gay marriage was part of Hollande’s left wing manifesto during last year’s elections so in introducing this controversial measure he is merely honouring one of his election pledges.
The bill is a complicated one covering Gay marriage, Gay adoption and assisted pregnancy for Gay couples. A majority of French people support Gay marriage (55 to 60 per cent), it’s around 50 – 50 on adoption and a majority oppose assisted pregnancy.
The Catholic Church is obviously at the head of the movement to oppose the law. Pierre Kanuty observed: “In a crusade mood, the right wing reopened somehow, the traditional split between the church and the non believers. The law will pass, but probably for a while, this split will last until mentalities change.”
This is undoubtedly true but those who oppose the law surprised themselves by the widespread support they attracted. The coalition against the Gay marriage package, although supported by the main religions and parties of the right, promoted itself as a citizens’ movement. Bizarrely at the helm is a spokeswoman, a performer who goes under the name Frigide Barjot, who in recent weeks has never been off national radio or TV. Only in France!
To get a full flavour of the sentiments of those who oppose one has to look no further than Serge Dassault, the CEO of Dassault and a senator for the centre right UMP. He is quoted as saying “We’ll have a country of gays and in 10 years there’ll be nobody left – that’s stupid.” Cardinal Philippe Barbain, who is the Archbishop of Lyon, said the Hollande law would open the door to incest and polygamy.
Off course the wide ranging nature of the bill is another reason for the opposition given that the majority support one section, a majority then oppose another and the French are divided on a third. Also the legal requirements regarding marriage in France are said to have played a role.
Under French law all marriages have to be civil marriages. In other European countries churches have the right to conduct wedding ceremonies that are also legal acts. Not so in France: the marriage has to be civil and then you have the option of having it blessed in the religion of your choice if you so choose.
This means because all marriages are civil everybody is caught up in the legal change. In Spain, for instance, if Gay couples wish to get married they have a civil service conducted by the town hall. It is very different for the nation’s Catholics who are married in church and hence have no contact with a civil service or the indeed the Gay marriage process.
Much of the opposition in France has been generated according to Barjot by Hollande’s law that will “de-structure” society by “destroying the concept in law of mother and father” and changing the time-honoured essence of the family.
However supporters of the legislation, especially amongst the young, counter that French society has changed. The family today, they argue, is not the same as the family of yesterday. They say the nation has to rethink its total concept of what makes up a family.
What is certain is that France will change when the French Parliament passes the new Gay laws. It remains to be seen how long it takes society to catch up.
Final word on this issue goes to the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, who is one of France’s few openly Gay politicians. Perhaps another reason for Anglo Saxon’s to review their long held views on the French and matters sexual. Delanoe observed: “The majority of French people wants all couples to have equality in love and parenthood.”
This new law will ensure they do.
(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on February 7 2013)