France Warms to Gay Marriage

War, torture, deception, decapitation: Let’s leave Iraq behind for once, and return to the matter of love. Or at least what some call love, while others prefer not to recognize it as such, calling it other things. Remember not so long ago when a flurry of homosexual marriages were being performed at the San Francisco City Hall, among other places in the US, to which President Bush countered with his proposal for an amendment to the US Constitution defining marriage exclusively as a union between a man and a woman? Well, once more people are planning homosexual marriages, and the administration is promising to block them while inveighing loudly against the very principle. This time, though, the opposition is preparing a law for debate in the legislature to formally enshrine that principle into law.

Ah, the “opposition”; the “legislature.” Do I mean the Democrats and Congress? No, and that’s your clue (plus this entry’s title, plus the innocent fact that this weblog is entitled “EuroSavant,” after all). If you haven’t heard of all this, you probably have a good excuse since it is happening not in the US but in France, and reports on these developments are by-and-large only available in French.

Those who can handle French should probably first start getting up-to-speed with the excellent article summing-up recent developments in the Nouvel Observateur (Gay Marriage: The Socialist Party and the Greens on the Offensive). The Greens in France aren’t a very important political party, but the Socialists certainly are: they made up the previous government, under premier Lionel Jospin, and are likely set to form the government after the next general election, if the overwhelming success of Socialist candidates in the local elections this spring are any indication. As things stand, France is already relatively advanced (or depraved, depending on your viewpoint) in the matter of state sanction of intimate relationships between couples of whatever sex, in that for six years now the pacte civil de solidarité (known seemingly everywhere instead by the acronym “PACS”) has been in force, essentially a civil agreement between couples, of whatever sex or sexes, that falls just short of the granting the protections and obligations of marriage. (You can read the official details about it, in French, here. Nothing of this sort of “civil union” is to be found in the US, of course, except in Vermont, where it was introduced under Governor Howard Dean. It’s common among other European countries, though.) Nonetheless, last Tuesday (11 May) saw pronouncements by several leaders of the French Left that it was time to make legal full marriage between persons of the same sex (and, for many, the right of such couples to adopt children as well). Francois Hollande, current leader of the Socialist Party, announced to the Assemblée Nationale (the lower house of the French legislature) that his party would begin preparations in both the Assemblée and the Senate for drawing up two legislative proposals for formal introduction “undoubtedly in the autumn,” concerning marriage and adoption/children’s rights. His number two, Laurent Fabius (a former Socialist prime minister), piped up that same day, also in favor of gay marriage and adoption as well as making improvements to the PACS, and reminded everyone that he had made his position clear a year ago, in an interview he had with a French homosexual magazine, Têtu. Then there was Noël Marmère – himself merely only one of the three legislators in the Assemblée of the Greens (not a particularly important political party in France, ordinarily), but also deputy mayor of the town of Bègles (in the Gironde, the south-west of France), who promised publicly to begin performing homosexual marriages in that capacity in Bègles starting on 5 June.

(Linguistic detour: In the French on-line press where I looked you see “PACS” or even “pacs” everywhere, just everywhere, and never pacte civil de solidarité. I was fortunate, or smart, or whatever to have some idea of what “pacs” was supposed to mean, and to be able to confirm that through a little additional searching elsewhere on the Internet. Same thing with le garde des Sceaux – would you believe that that is supposed to mean “Minister/Ministry of Justice”? I was confused at first with that one – and maybe I still haven’t gotten it right yet; native French readers, your comments are certainly welcome! – since Sceaux is also a town somewhere in France. I tell ya, up to a certain level I can handle popular “code names,” like “Whitehall” for the British executive branch and Quai d’Orsay for the French foreign ministry, but such phenomena can easily get out of hand and start to restrict understanding about what is being written about, even in a publicly-published article, only to those “in the know” – the cognoscenti, if you will.)


Then there was Socialist Party notable, and Economy Minister in the last Socialist government Dominique Strauss-Kahn (himself referred to everywhere in the press mostly by “DSK” rather than his full name; you know he’s a party heavyweight). No, I’m not going to go down the list of Socialist Party notables to report what they all said; it’s just that DSK’s remarks, made in an interview published last Tuesday in Libération (interview title: “For me, adoption by a homo couple, that’s a ‘yes'”), certainly give some food for thought. Consider:

The only argument of the Right for opposing marriage by persons of the same sex is to say that marriage must serve the cause of procreation. This fails in the face of facts: close to 50% of children are born outside of marriage today and there are, on the other hand, enormous numbers of married couples who have no children. The connection between procreation and marriage has been broken. As a result, what has marriage become? A declaration of solemn love between two beings who love each other and a contract to protect the interests and the patrimony of the parties. For my part, I see no reason to forbid this to two persons of the same sex.

And about adoption into a homosexual household:

Some think that, by nature, it is damaging for a child to be raised by a homosexual couple. I consider this to be a moral error [faute morale], and, until someone demonstrates to me the contrary, scientific nonsense. Sexual orientation does not determine one’s aptitude to raise a child. . . . What counts is the happiness of the child and his or her future, with a heterosexual or homosexual couple.

Controversial opinions? Less and less so in France, as it would seem from a timely opinion poll conducted in April by the French polling organization IFOP for Elle magazine, and published last Monday, whose results are presented in another article in the Nouvel Observateur (EuroSavant does not cover Elle magazine): the title there is 64% of the French Favorable to Homosexual Marriage. There you have it; and 35% are against homosexual marriage. What’s more, 49% of those polled were for allowing homosexual couples to adopt children, while 49% also were against, although a year ago, the article notes, only 37% of those polled then were in favor. And 51% of those questioned in the recent poll were even in favor of allowing artificial insemination of lesbian couples, while 48% were against. (None of those pairs of figures adds up to 100%, because you always have those who can’t make up their mind or have no opinion – in France, it seems, these are relatively few, at least on these topics.)


Be that as it may, these recent declarations of the French Left immediately provoked reaction from the French Right. But it has tended to be largely unfocused – other than the many all-too-clear protests that what Noël Marmère proposes to start doing on 5 June is a “provocation” and publicity stunt. There have been the usual declarations that a family necessary involves both a man and a woman, that children can be raised no other way. (Not surprisingly, the noted conservative French newspaper Le Figaro has been pleased to publish these, such as from UMP Assemblée delegate Jean Léonetti.) These have generally included the complaint that six years ago, when the Socialist succeeded in having the PACS instituted, they swore that it was by no means supposed to be the first step towards allowing gay marriage. But, as Guillaume Tabard points out in an excellent analytical piece in Le Figaro, although it has apparently taken them by surprise, the French Right now seems to know which way the wind of public opinion is blowing on the issue. Resistance that is too die-hard could only label them as a bunch of ringards (another French word you won’t yet find in any dictionary; it has got to mean “old fogey”) and lead to electoral losses in the future. So it’s significant, as Tabard notes, that the substantive reaction by the current French government to the brewing storm has been to offer substitutes, such as accelerated work on a law outlawing expressions of homophobia, and improvements to the PACS. (Note that, six years ago, the Right was completely against the PACS.)

Oh, then there is also the matter of Minister of Justice Dominique Preben (depending on your attitude, you could label him the French John Ashcroft) reminding one-and-all that homosexual marriage is in fact still illegal on the French statute-books, and instructing judicial authorities in the Bordeaux region (which contains Bègles) to put a stop to the same-sex marriages M. Marmère plans to conduct on 5 June. But that’s OK, say the Greens: if M. Preben wants to play nasty that way, it just so happens that they’ve been working on a legislative proposal of their own, to make homosexual marriage legal, for a long time and will have it ready on 6 June to bring before the Assemblée, so that the issue can be pushed forward sooner and no one needs to wait for the Socialist Party proposal in the fall.

One final article French-readers may want to examine is the excellent summary of the positions – pro, con, and indifferent – on this issue from the leading figures involved, gained from their public statements. I happen to like best that of Henri Cuq, the minister for the government in charge of relationships with the Parliament, who dismisses the entire explosion of the homosexual marriage issue last Tuesday as political jockeying among the various future Socialist Party presidential candidates. “It’s the worst, most detestable way to present a debate which surely deserves better.” Paul Quinio of Libération – the very newspaper DSK chose to lay out his opinions to! – offers a similar viewpoint in an analysis of his own (DSK Pushes the Socialist Party into the Arms of Gay Marriage), calling the whole affair a surprise initiative by that eager presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn, catching his Socialist colleagues unawares and not really ready to take up the issue just now, but certainly politically unable to object or resist.

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