Fight For Marriage Equality Escalates in France

AFP / Gérard Julien

The examination of the text outlining the law for marriage equality, to be submitted before the French Ministers Council, has now been pushed to January 15th, 2013.
Will marriage equality be adopted in France? Will same-sex couples be given the same rights to adopt as heterosexual couples? These questions have been heavily debated on national television, radio and newspapers.

In 1960, homosexuality was categorized as a “social ill” by General De Gaulle’s Deputy Paul Mirguet. The law authorized the government to take all necessary measures to
combat this “social ill.” In 1968, the French government labelled homosexuality a mental illness.

While France’s motto is “liberty, equality, fraternity,” French women only gained the right to vote in 1944, the right to an abortion in 1975, and homosexuality was only decriminalized in 1982.

Article 331 of the Civil Code, abolished in 1982, made “all persons who commit an indecent act or an act against nature with a minor of the same sex” punishable to six
months to three years in prison and a fine. There was never a complimentary law for heterosexuals committing “indecent acts or an act against nature with a minor of the
opposite sex.”

Unfortunately this law, which François Fillion (Sarkozy’s prime minister from 2007-2012 and current candidate for the UMP party leadership, France’s right wing
conservative party) voted to preserve, has left a stain on the French social fabric.

Today, when discussing marriage equality and adoption, French politicians from the left and right, make subtle connections between homosexuality, pedophilia, sex with
animals, polygamy, perversion and decadence.

Here are just a few examples:

In 2012, the mayor of Paris’s eighth arrondissement mailed an official municipal bulletin to citizens in which he expressed his opposition to marriage equality, which he equated with polygamy, incest and pedophilia.

In October of 2012, major political figures, including former Minister Rachida Dati and former Prime Minister Pierre Raffarin attended a yearly Catholic mass at Sainte
Clothilde in Paris, catered especially for France’s political elite, where the Archbishop of Paris gave a sermon denouncing marriage equality. Although France is a republic and the laws of 1905 prohibit the Church from meddling in political or state affairs, the many Deputies and Senators who were met by reporters as they exited the church didn’t seem to be concerned with this oversight.

Again in 2012, the French mayor Noel Faucher declared on twitter that homosexuality was a form of species self-destruction.

In 2002, UMP Deputy Pierre Lelouche stated, “sterilize them (homosexuals)” during the debates on civil unions for gays.

The socialist mayor of Lyon, Gérard Collomb, equated marriage equality with the “slow destruction of society that would lead to wombs for hire like in California.” He also
dismissed marriage equality, like many politicians in France, by saying that his gay friends didn’t express an interest in getting married.

Sarkozy’s former Minister of Housing, Christine Boutin, has staged, through her Association Vita, protests in 75 French cities last week. The association deems it a child’s right to have a mother and father. Its tagline is “we protect society’s most vulnerable.” Christine Boutin, who is legally married to her cousin, is head of the Christian Democratic Party and brought a Bible into the National Assembly (which is not allowed under French laws that separate church and state) and gave a five and a half hour speech against gay civil unions in 1999. She stated in a radio interview recently that allowing marriage equality would be like unleashing an atomic bomb on civilization and called for a national referendum.

The “protection” of the “traditional” family is an issue underlying another main issue in the debate over Francois Hollande’s “Engagement 31” – medically assisted procreation, and adoption of children by a same-sex couple. Though recent polls show increasing support for the right of same-sex couples to marry (65%), support for the right of same-sex couple to adopt lags behind at 52%.

Historically, the definition and characterization of homosexuality in France has been mainly constructed by the Catholic Church, old films like “La Cage Aux Folles”
and repressive laws, the French population, born after 1960, is still influenced by these outdated stereotypes and distortions.

For example, when the Catholic Church was embroiled with sexual abuse scandals in 2010 (in which over 100 pupils of the Ettal monastery in Bavaria, Germany accused
monks and teachers of decades of sadistic torment and sexual abuse), Cardinal Tarcisio, the Vatican Secretary of State, stated, “psychologists and psychiatrists
have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true. That is the problem.” ( Pope Benedict XVI led the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising from 1977 and 1982 where the Ettal monastery is situated.)

These homophobic misrepresentations are exacerbated by the fact that very few public figures in France whether in music, film, politics, or sport are openly gay and defend homosexual rights to equality. There have only been a handful of public figures that have come out of the closet (Paris’s mayor, Amelie Mauresmo), but most shy away from discussing equal rights.

Because there are so few gay public figures to challenge the homophobia that has creeped into this national marriage equality debate, the discussion, as a result, is being mainly shaped by homophobes and their friends who defend their right to free speech. While free speech has found enthusiastic supporters, marriage equality is still waiting for more voices to be raised on its behalf, like writer/director Virginie Despentes’s response to homophobic remarks made by former Prime Minister Lionel Josphin – published this week on TÊ

Hopefully, “equality, liberty and fraternity” in France will be defended in the coming months as debate and protest continues.

by Revel & Riot contributor, Sophie Decret