Gay Marriage and France: Strange Bedfellows??
Socialist President François Hollande's attempt to follow up on his campaign promise to legalize marriage for same-sex couples has met surprisingly boisterous opposition. Who knew that the land of Voltaire, the birthplace of the Republican ideal and the first European country to reject the authority of any church could be so reactionary?
I have to admit that I'm disappointed with this unexpected display of apparent bigotry amongst my adopted countryfolk.
I know that a good percentage of the 500,000 or so people protesting the mariage pour tous ("marriage for everybody") legislation last Sunday were bussed in at the behest and expense of right-wing groups, and that another significant portion of that gaudy figure consisted of the children of said reactionaries who presumably didn't have much choice in the matter, but still.
François Hollande's same-sex marriage campaign promise didn't get too much press before last year's election. I was, in fact, quite sure that the ritually tiresome debate on the subject fueled ad nauseum by the mostly-evangelical religious right in America wouldn't gain any purchase in France, mainly because a) there are hardly any evangelicals in France, and b) no one seems to listen to them much. In fact, I sometimes feel sorry for the clean-cut young Latter-Day Saint missionaries one sees about town and the Jehovah's Witnesses shivering, ignored, over their untouched racks of Watchtowers, believers unfortunate enough to have the indifferent-at-best French population en face in their proselytizing efforts: it's just not very fertile soil for that sort of thing.
Anyway: there was a smaller protest in October that surprised me a bit, but it didn't seem like a big deal at the time. Last Sunday, however, with the law ready to go into effect, the voices of protest were louder than I ever would have imagined...and most of them are traditional French Catholics playing the ol' Family Values card! This, in the land of partial nudity in pharmacy windows and prime-time shampoo commercials? In the country where black Americans came for decades in the early-mid 20th century to escape the daily horror and drudgery of institutionalized racial discrimination? The land whose capital city has had an openly gay mayor for more than a decade now?
What happened? As a wise Internet friend of of mine once astutely pointed out, the only non-religious argument anybody has against gay marriage is that it's, well, icky...and that isn't really sound legislative reasoning. So, with France being a largely secular country in which only about 15% of the population goes to church regularly, why would your average French person be worried about gay people getting married?
To be fair, many of them aren't. Concerning those who are, there is at least one good theory.
Conservatives in the French government—most of them from the center-right UMP party joined by a few far-right National Front representatives—made sure that the gay marriage bill didn't stand alone, but was rather joined with an explicit same-sex couple adoption rights clause. As much sense as this makes logically—i.e. if married people have the right to adopt, you can't really separate one "type" of married person from another—the fact that it's written in the law has opened the door for conservatives to steer the debate away from gay marriage per se and towards an undefined "save the children" crusade, a cause more likely to attract opposition from otherwise-sane right-leaning folks.
Politically speaking, I suppose that's a smart move by the right. Or maybe it's just a tactical error by Hollande's Socialists, who would have been better off staying mute on the adoption question until after the law passed, figuring that once "marriage for everybody" was the law, adoption for all married people would be self-evident.
Whatever happened, I'm still disappointed. Escaping religion-fueled arguments in the policy debates of a country that supposedly separated church and state 230 years ago is, for this ex-pat at least, one of the great perks of leaving the US: seeing a similar and decidedly un-secular line of thinking gain traction here just makes me feel, well...icky.