It’s been legal in the neighboring Netherlands for twelve uneventful years. In Spain, a nation drenched in Catholic tradition, same-sex marriage was okayed in 2005. Even in the sexually conflicted USA, legal barriers are crumbling state by state. So why does France, envied worldwide as the standard-bearer of liberté, fraternité and adult free play, have its knickers in such a twist over the proposed gay marriage law?
Wednesday’s news flash: the proposed ‘marriage for all’ law, up for debate and vote in April, risks being ruled unconstitutional, according to a leaked memo by a ‘high functionary’ of the Constitutional Court.
Brief Chronicle of an Escalation:
On November 17, 2012, give or take 200,000 protestors demonstrated throughout France against a ‘change of civilization’. In December, a diverse coalition in favor of the law change mustered rainbow flags, sign-waving kids and roughly 100,000 marchers for a counter-demo in December. On January 13, 2013 the impressive counter-counter demo of 400,000 to 800,000 ‘antis’, fortified with the usual signs and soundtrucks as well as their own barrage of babies in strollers, marched to the Champ de Mars, leaving such a trampled mess behind that Mayor Bernard Delanoe presented the organizers with a gardening services bill of 100,000 euros.
UPDATE: Now that the right has discovered the pleasures of taking to the streets, another ‘anti’ demo has been called for next week–this time on the Champs-Elysees.
Background plus Fun Facts:
Almost half of French legal unions these days are by PACS (‘civil contract of solidarity’, a somewhat less chafing bond) rather than marriage. PACSing (yes, it is legally a verb) is open to same-sex couples, who make up about 5%, holding steady.
The Socialist Party spotlighted same-sex marriage as a campaign promise. Last September, with the post-election economy in steep decline (arguably hurried along by SP policies but that’s another topic) the launch of a relatively lukewarm social reform seemed to offer a change of headlines and a way to show up the opposition as out of touch. By all accounts the degree of public resistance caught nearly everyone by surprise.
53% of French babies are now born outside of marriage.
If ratified, the draft law now known as ‘marriage for all’ will become for evermore la Loi Tabira, in honor of the current Minister of Justice, Christiane Tabira-Felannon.
On the draft law’s side, the intello-entertainment-world complex, including singer/ex-first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. And, of course, Francois Hollande & the Socialist Party.
For the opposition, most, though not all, of the parliamentary minority: UMP and FP (le Pen’s party). The Roman Catholic Church. A few bold renegades from the intello-entertainment complex, including surprise guest Karl Lagerfeld. Frigide Barjot (sic), the pink-miniskirt-clad, hip-waggling leader of the opposition demos whose night job is to animate the gay clubs of the Marais. And finally, a vocal majority of authority-wielding psychotherapists. Go figure.
What’s Our Problem, Doctor?
To some objectors, the definition of the word ‘marriage’ is exactly the issue. Not that definitions can’t change, in geological time, but that the legislature has no business monkeying with the French language. You have to love a country that takes to the streets to defend a word!
But for most of the insurgents, the national crisis is–as often in family crises–all about the kids. Same-sex adoption? Surrogate motherhood (a particular anathema here)? Ivf for single mothers? Doing away with the terms ‘father’ and ‘mother’ in birth certificates? In the va-banque style of the French Revolution, all manner of social home improvements have been rolled into one radical, unwieldy draft.
The kids are taken seriously in France. I know of no country with more child-protective laws, covering life’s events from inheritance to imprisonment.
Maybe the proposed changes have touched a raw nerve. Maybe when an historically proud and powerful culture sees its patrimony, and identity, bleeding away in the new global order, its instinct is to defend the next generation–and hold to traditional ways.