Is Gay Marriage Too Progressive for the French?

The leftist government of French President François Hollande tables legislation to legalize same-sex marriages and adoptions amid rising opposition and public hesitation

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JEFF PACHOUD / AFP / Getty Images

Two French policewomen, Raphaelle and her companion Fabienne, pose with one of their three children on Oct. 24, 2012

This week, the leftist government of French President François Hollande initiated draft legislation legalizing marriage and adoption for same-sex couples. But it’s a bill already generating stronger opposition than many expected in this famously progressive society. Indeed, while the bill unveiled on Nov. 7 aims to fulfill one of Hollande’s more popular campaign pledges, recent polls show support sagging for moves to extend gay couples the same rights enjoyed by heterosexual unions. Some reports claim even the President may be less than convinced about the necessity of reform.

The clamor against gay marriage in France flies in the face of a country famous for its supposedly open-minded attitudes on a host of social and behavioral issues. And ironically, that hesitation also comes just as American voters — whom many French consider pathologically puritanical — passed same-sex-union ballot initiatives in three states on Nov. 6. Contrasting with those progressive American election results are comments by French industrialist and conservative legislator Serge Dassault on the same day. Responding to Hollande’s same-sex-marriage reform, Dassault warned that its goal of giving gay and lesbian couples the same legal status as heterosexual unions meant the “end of the family, the end of child development … an enormous danger for the entire nation.”

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“Look at history — it’s one of the reasons for the decadence of Greece,” Dassault told France Culture radio in comments about legalizing same-gender marriage. “There will be no more reproduction, so what’s the point? Do we want a nation of gays? If so, in 10 years, there’ll be no one left. It’s stupid.”

Just who’s the prude now, chers français?

The French legislation, dubbed Marriage for All, was introduced on Nov. 7 at the weekly Cabinet meeting as the first stop in its journey toward parliamentary debate in January. Its stated objective is to “open marriage to couples of the same sex” and “consequentially also open the path to adoption for married people of the same sex”.

Extending same-gender couples the same legal recognition and rights as married heterosexuals was a major plank in Hollande’s campaign platform earlier this year. It was also one of the main social reforms on which he clashed with French conservatives, who repeatedly rejected the idea during their decade in power. Given the left’s parliamentary majorities, there’s little risk the politically and socially symbolic bill will fail to gain passage and become law by mid-2013.

“This is a step toward equality that took too long in coming and is moving toward reality,” said Women’s Rights Minister and government spokesperson Najat Vallaud-Belkacem during a weekly press briefing on Wednesday. “It doesn’t represent a victory of one category of people over others, but a victory for society as a whole.”

Not everyone in France sees it that way. In the run-up to the bill’s introduction on Wednesday, thousands of demonstrators joined protests across France denouncing the measure. A petition opposing the draft drew more than 1,000 signatures from mostly conservative mayors. Rightist politicians have challenged the bill with varying degrees of fury — Dassault representing the more bombastic extreme.

Jean-François Copé, leader of the right’s main Union for a Popular Movement party, called on Hollande to pull back what he called a badly prepared text creating change that France is not ready for. Christine Boutin — a former Cabinet member and Catholic fundamentalist — last month warned Parliament “the logic of this situation is if we have marriage [for everyone], we’ll move toward polygamy.” A fellow conservative official did Boutin one better, throwing incest into the mix of new deviant trends the legalization of same-sex marriage and adoption would spawn.

More dignified opposition has come from a rare interfaith protest bloc. Leaders of all major religions in France — Catholic, Muslim, Protestant and Jewish — have decried the measure for upending traditional definitions of marriage and family. During an address to French bishops on Nov. 3, Roman Catholic archbishop of Paris, André Vingt-Trois, also denounced the reform as “a sham” catering to a social minority, under which the definition of “marriage of a few [is] imposed on everyone.” He wasn’t alone in viewing the initiative as political pandering.

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“There will be neither courage nor glory in voting a law that relies more on slogans than arguments and conforming to dominant political correctness out of fear of scorn,” writes Gilles Bernheim, chief rabbi of France, in an open letter opposing the initiative.

That pushback would have materialized in any case, but it’s also being fueled by signs that French public support for the reform is waning. Though recent polls show a majority of people still supporting same-sex marriage and adoption rights, those levels appear to be dropping. A survey this month by Ifop for Le Monde shows support for legalization of same-sex marriage still at its historical high of 65%, but the level regarding adoption dropping to 52%. An annual poll published on Nov. 3 by BVA showed significant declines on both questions.

Now, according to one French news report on Thursday, even (the unmarried) Hollande is not that convinced the measure is as socially, ethically or legally important as it is politically significant.

Christiane Taubira, the French Justice Minister sponsoring the bill, dismissed any doubts about Hollande’s commitment to the bill, or the government’s determination to remedy long-standing injustices. “This is the audacity of equality,” Taubira told a press conference on Wednesday about the reform. “This is about respecting values of equality for everyone and acting in the best interests of children.”

It’s unlikely external opposition — and even some waffling among leftist politicians — will prevent the bill from becoming law. Yet its passage still won’t allow France to stake out any particularly lofty progressive high ground vis-à-vis European partners, or even some U.S. states. Twelve countries — including the U.K., Sweden and Denmark — have already enacted laws placing same-sex marriages on the same footing as heterosexual unions. On Wednesday, Spain’s Supreme Court struck down the final legal challenge to a law legalizing same-sex marriages and adoption.

Several other countries and U.S. states, meanwhile, allow gay and lesbian individuals and couples to adopt children — even in some places where same-sex marriage as such isn’t recognized. On Wednesday, voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington State cleared the way for legalization of same-sex marriage by passing state initiatives on the issue. In Minnesota, a proposal to alter the state constitution to prohibit recognizing same-sex couples as married was defeated.

Now, those and other U.S. states that have previously adopted equal or neutral positions on same-gender unions and parenting must wait to see if the famously live-and-let-live French will take the same steps as their less puritain American peers.

MORE: Marriage Victories Are (Slowly) Transforming the Notion of Family

31 comments
Poopie
Poopie

it's amazing how the french government and media are good enough to make us believe that gay marriage is the only issue right now in France!

Bot
Bot

Marriage reflects the natural moral and social law evidenced the world over.  As the late British social anthropologist Joseph Daniel Unwin noted in his study of world civilizations, any society that devalued the nuclear family soon lost what he called "expansive energy, which might be best summarized as society's will to make things better for the next generation.  In fact, no society that has loosened sexual morality outside of man-woman marriage has survived.

Analyzing studies of cultures spanning several thousands of years on several continents, Chairman of Harvard University's sociology department, Pitirim Sorokin,  found that virtually all political revolutions that brought about societal collapse were preceded by a sexual revolution in which marriage and family were devalued by the culture's acceptance of homosexuality.

When marriage loses its unique status, women and children most frequently are the direct victims.  Giving same-sex relationships the same special status and benefits as the marital bond would not be the expansion of a right, but the destruction of a principle.

Gogo12
Gogo12

I'm a homosexual man and I can reproduce , also when I live in a realtionship with a same sex partner. I will get to know a homosexual woman or homosexual female couple and we'll get to know know each other and if we like us and know us long then we're gonna start a family through petting(finger sex) . No one's gotta be heterosexual to procreate . Everyone and every couple can naturally reproduce trough petting. There is not only sex ! A kid needs afather and mother does not mean that the father and mother are heterosexual , the mother and father can also be homosexual but they do not get married because they don't love each other but just like each other! So that is why aso gay marriage is no threat to humanity cause everyone can reproduce . Reproduction has nothing to do with lobe! It can be romantic but if humaniyt will die and just one man and woman will survive and both do not know each other the they' would do kids , also if both do not love each other , know each other and even not like each other !...

DianeM
DianeM

It's about time that "Liberté, égalité, Fraternité" applied to everyone.

France is a nation apparently against discrimination... How can some refuse marriage equality? Embarrassing and hypocritical.

jalangaya
jalangaya

There is nothing progressive about "gay marriage", unless you consider sliding into a sink hole of depravity & perversion to be "progress".

Bourt
Bourt

The point of the author of the article is not really about gay marriage but about how America is so superior to France. Thát give you an idea of the guy!

AB_TIME
AB_TIME

>Just who’s the prude now, chers français?

You have covered French affairs for 20 years and haven't learnt a thing about the French's, have you? 

In 1999, France passed into Law the Civil Solidarity Pact which provide most of the legal/tax/inheritance benefits as marriage and is available to every couple, gay or straight. Hollande's platform clearly defined his position and will to completely close the gap and reform the legal definition of marriage to include gay couples. Giving identical rights to gay couple is NOT the issue at hand here.

The issue is the word 'marriage' traditionally refers to a religious union by the Church. French's a re renowned for being extremely protective of their language and many simply do not want this word to be used for gay couple, and that includes gay couple which do not want their union named after a word that comes from a religion that publicly reject their lifestyle.

This article is so disappointing from the TIME. An American giving the French's lessons on being progressive, someone freaking pinch me.

Dumpleavy_NOW
Dumpleavy_NOW

i do feel like the US is viewed as a less progressive society, yet at the same time I don't see any other Western country even close to electing a minority as their president as we have in the US.  Gay marriage is one thing, and while the US has obviously had its mistakes with racism, the fact we are able to have a black man in office says something about the progressiveness of our country.  

stanJames
stanJames

Marriage equality is the social justicee issue of our time.   Half of western Europe has it and England, Scotland,  wales, and  Ireland are on the way.

The oppostion comes from the church of the endless hidden molestation of children by its sex starved priests, Who have done a great job all over the world showing that celibacy is not normal and  ultimately explocaded in the churches face.

Meanwhile we have the german pope who did the unthinkable - UNexcommunicating a holocaust denying bishop in 2009

And who is directly invovled in the hiding of the vile crimes by children to protect the churches long dead reputiation

http://articles.cnn.com/2009-01-26/world/pope.holocaust.denial_1_bishop-richard-williamson-bishop-bernard-fellay-holocaust-denier?_s=PM:WORLD

 http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Pope-Benedict-accused-of-masterminding-Catholic-Church-sex-abuse-cover-up-91038229.html#ixzz1lf7MasmO

Heres anothter goodie re the church or should I say horror............

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/sep/11/bad-science-pope-anti-condom

Itselementary
Itselementary

Amazing that in this land of the free, one is not allowed to express opposition to gay marriage without personal attacks through name calling. Good to know that in other countries one is truly free to express their opinions. Now that's truly progressive!

thriver
thriver

This article is misleading. A majority still wants it. However the amount of public support dropped considerably between last year and this year because the left-wing won both the presidency and both houses (L'assemblee and le Senat).

A look at the statistics shows that right wing voters massively changed their minds when their - recently fired- leaders told them to. Suddenly it was a terrible thing that would be the downfall of modern society as we know it.

(Said right-wing is busily courting extreme right-wing support...)

jason024
jason024

“There will be no more reproduction, so what’s the point? Do we want a nation of gays? If so, in 10 years, there’ll be no one left. It’s stupid.”

===========

There you have it folks....everyone is going to be gay and that is why we can't have gay marraige. The stupidity of the right is indefensible.

Simbab
Simbab

It's amusing how hard Time tries and make it sound like France is being regressive and the US progressive on this issue. The truth that the article reluctantly acknowledge after all its hedging is that a large majority of French support gay marriage and that it's very likely to be implemented in the next few months. At this point French gays will have full marriage equality in the entire country.

In the US it's great news that three progressive states just voted to legalise it but that still leaves it illegal in the 47 other ones and for federal purposes. It's sadly likely to be years before there is a US-wide legalisation of same-sex marriage.

Nationwidevotes
Nationwidevotes

Washington state, Maine and Maryland legalized gay marriage. Do you think most states will follow suit? Vote at www.nationwidevotes.com

fatality1515
fatality1515

Dear TIME,

Only liberal comments are allowed on this website? Your brainwashing and censorship is disgusting... Fu*k you!

thriver
thriver

@AB_TIME With all due respect - if you can't see the homophobia in this you really need a visit to an optometrist.

Basically you're saying it's all about grammar and protecting the sacro-saint language. In doing so you're suggesting that somehow the word will have less value than if it only refers to heterosexual coupling.

This attitude mirrors the dominant attitude in France about people of color: theoretically we're a terre d'asile for the oppressed but in reality no one wants to socialize with those people. Torchons et serviettes...

The question remains: how can a Republic deeply rooted in a history of equality justify offering two different statutes for two different groups of citizens living in the same country (unless in reality you consider one group inferior to the other)? 

Emerald1234S
Emerald1234S

@Dumpleavy_NOW Of course the majority of the ''majority'' voted for Romney, the ''minorities'' voted Obama in

thriver
thriver

@Itselementary The reason it's hard for people to take you seriously is that if indeed you're a member of the culturally dominant group - the criticism against you has only become audible in the last five years. And criticism for narrow-mindedness is not really a heavy burden to carry.

You can find members of your group everywhere and remind yourself that your position albeit outdated is prominent.But before you get comforted by them I encourage you to use your imagination for just a few minutes to feel the discomfort of what it might be iike living from birth with the message that who/what you are is fundamentally flawed and unacceptable in society - including from the very people who are there to love and protect you.

peggygravel
peggygravel

@jason024 I know and in the countries that already have gay marriage, Belgium, Spain, Netherlands it only make up 2 to 3  percent of the marriages taking place, hardly making a dent in the loss of reproduction lol

peggygravel
peggygravel

@Simbab I agree, I live here and the author could not be more wrong. It's going to happen.

dwainwr123
dwainwr123

@Simbab Get your facts straight.  Same-sex marriage will now be legal in 9 states (these 3 plus 6 that already had it), and an additional 10 states have some form of civil unions or domestic partnerships that give homosexual couples most or all of the same rights as heterosexual couples.  While the federal Defense of Marriage Act does discriminate against gays, there is a decent possibility that within a year, it will be struck down by the Supreme Court.  In the last 20 years, homosexuality has become accepted in much of the United States.   Even the conservative city of Houston has a lesbian mayor.  US society may be imperfect, but the United States is far more accepting of gays and lesbian than many other countries.

jason024
jason024

@fatality1515Suck it up..if you can't write something thoughtful no matter what side you support, you are an idiot.

Simbab
Simbab

@thriver @AB_TIME Good question, and the answer is that it can't, and that this oddity will be corrected in a few months when gay marriages are legal in France.

It's clear at this point that the civil unions were just a temporary compromise on the way to full equality.

And saying that French people don't want to socialise with "people of colour" is a huge simplification. France's inter-ethnic marriage rate is one of the highest amoung OEDC countries for instance.

AB_TIME
AB_TIME

@dwainwr123  No, you get you fact straights.

The Civil Solidarity Pact has granted virtually identical legal rights than marriage to all French couple, straight or not, since 1999.

Same-sex unions are not recognized at a Federal level in the U.S. and will not be for a very long time. Period.

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

@dwainwr123 

Although there has been progress in the US, it remains a religious issue, and religion is a more dominant influence in the US than anyplace in the world with the exception of the muslin autocracies.  Nowhere in Europe do there exist such a high per capita rate of religious fanaticism as exists in the US.  That's what is comes down to, and while I would like to share your optimism, I don't.

Simbab
Simbab

@dwainwr123 Good to hear about those other 6 ones, I had indeed missed that.

It doesn't change my point though, that France will have country-wide gay marriage long before the US. And it's had country-wide civil unions for 13 years now. The US is of course much more tolerant of homosexuality than most other countries, but not than France or many other European countries that have already voted-in gay marriage.

fatality1515
fatality1515

@jason024

What makes you think I didn't write something thoughtful? Did you see what I wrote? No, you didn't... So STFU!

Simbab
Simbab

@thriver @Simbab @AB_TIME On gay rights I just disagree. French gays don't have to be satisfied with the PACS, gay marriage is getting voted in - a clear sign that no, PACS alone was not acceptable. And while France is not at the forefront of the mouvement (11 countries already have it), it's not doing too badly either. In particular it's clearly ahead of the US, where gay marriage is unlikely to be legal outside of some of the most liberal states for a long time.

I also disagree with the idea that there no "out" personalities in France. Beyond Delanoë which you named (the mayor of Paris, hardly a small position!), like that I can name Karoutchi, Frédéric Mitterrand (both of whom have been ministers), Parisot, Mauresmo... Ok, they don't parade their partners in front of cameras. But then not many straight politicians do that in France. And how many openly gay people serve in the US Cabinet?

And things are moving fast. Just look at the PACS: when it was voted in in 1999 the right was dead against. Today they support it. My guess is that it will be the same for gay marriage in 10 years.

On cultural minorities it's more complicated. There's clearly a big gap between the French integrationist model and the US multi-cultural one. The US one clearly requires less of new immigrants, but I really don't like how it leads to considering everyone as being part of "his" community. Such as the way Lieberman was a Jewish senator, Romney is the Mormon presidential candidate, or Kennedy was the Catholic president. By contrast when DSK looked like he would be the Socialist candidate for the presidency nobody cared that he was jewish. And I can't remember seeing a single French article mentioning that Harlem Désir was the first black head of the Socialist party when he was recently nominated. And the practical results are mixed in both countries - immigrants from Africa and the Arab world are doing poorly in France on average, but so are Black Americans 150 after the abolition of slavery.

We'll see for France - maybe I'm optimistic, but it wasn't that long ago that Italian, Polish or Ashkenazi Jews were seen as intruders who would never be part of the French population. Today the idea that DSK, Domenech or Devedjian (or Sarkozy, for that matter...) are not fully French and considered as such is risible.

thriver
thriver

@Simbab @thriver @AB_TIME I recognize the simplification and I apologize. 

At the same time I don't know how to put into words the implicit message sent by the dominant class in France that color is good but white is better, Islam is good but catholic is better, foreign language is good but French is better, Thai food is exotic but a good ole pot au feu is better, Ali is good but Jean-Pierre is better.

It's subtle but it permeates a lot of the public messaging.

Even folks like Delanoe never appear publicly in a loving relationship with kids. There are no "out" assemblee members or cabinet members or PDG's or athletes.

I think the "Discretion a tout prix" rule handed down by the bourgeoisie and the French refusal to repudiate the American model of "communities" within the greater society (as if...) both do a great disservice to a painful reality that many French gay people live with.

I think it's so pervasive that most don't even yearn for something better - they're happy with their second-class PACS and prefer not to make waves.

(this is all a gut feeling without any statistics to back it up - je suis franco-americain by the way)