In Paris, an estimated 350,000 people gathered on Sunday to protest a government-supported bill that would legalize same-sex marriage. It was one of the largest public demonstrations in recent memory, but French President François Hollande says he won’t back down. For many Americans, France’s debate on marriage equality has a familiar ring.
Anti-gay marriage and pro-extra-marital affairs?
Writing for France24.com, the journalist Caroline Clarkson registers the alarmist tone of leaflets passed out near Paris subway stations by anti-gay marriage activists. “This bill intends to challenge the basis of human identity: sexual difference and the filiation that results from it,” read a typical pamphlet. “The people of France must rise up for their children, their future . . . and our humanity, made up of a man and a woman!”
But on descending into the subway, Clarkson finds herself confronted by tawdry ads for the Canadian-based website Ashley Madison, which in recent years has grown popular in the U.S. The site’s appeal? It helps frisky married people connect for clandestine extra-marital affairs. (Official motto: “Life is short. Have an affair.”) The ads have been placed on 100 subway platforms. Clarkson describes one: “A picture of a married lady placing her forefinger over her lips to signify discretion accompanied the following tagline: ‘It’s 6 pm. Do you know where your wife is?'” She continues:
I couldn’t help but notice the contradiction between the anti-gay marriage leaflets being doled out, and then this rather shocking advert in the metro – clearly visible to children and teenagers – cheerfully encouraging people to break their marriage vows.
In the U.S., as the writer Kirsten Powers points out in the pages of USA Today, evangelical Christian leaders condemn homosexuality while devoting comparatively little attention to another Biblical no-no, adultery. “I’m still waiting for the constitutional amendment banning extramarital sex,” Powers wryly notes.
French public opinion moving in same direction as American
Presently in France, same-sex couples can have a legally registered partnership, although they are not guaranteed full marriage rights. If the 350,000 or so protestors have anything to say about it, the laws will stay the same. One young demonstrator told Germany’s Der Spiegel that a protest crowd “over 300,000 would be a success. Then the government can’t simply ignore us.”
While Hollande certainly could not “ignore” a protest of that magnitude, he and the Socialist party vow they will move ahead, emboldened no doubt by opinion polls which, as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports, show that “most voters support the right of homosexual couples to marry, while a narrower majority favour granting them adoption rights.”
One of those voters is a blogger writing under the name “baroque and tired” in the popular left-of-center news website Rue89. He describes himself as “christian, liberal and a bureaucrat (yes I know!)” In his post “Seven reasons why I, a Catholic, am not opposed to gay marriage,” he argues that the Church has not moved with the times, that the proposed law is for the common good and concludes with the following:
“Because I think that homosexual persons are . . . like each of us, called towards holiness and that the possibility of getting married will help them be more loving, happy and faithful, a fact that a Catholic, it seems to me, can only be happy about.”
As for the government politicians, France’s Minister of Justice Christine Taubira was categorical in her response to Sunday’s demonstration and the alarmist leaflets. The claim that the terms “mother” and “father” will disappear in the new legislation? “That’s not true,” she said. The possibility of a referendum on the issue? Not constitutional (a statement contested, by the way, by the opposition). Her message, that all will be discussed in parliament, is not likely to satisfy opponents of the bill.
In an opinion piece entitled “Marriage for all: Hollande weakens for the foundations of our culture,” the conservative commentator Philippe Tesson writes that by appealing to the anti-clerical values of the Left — after having already appealed to populist sentiments with his 75% income tax proposal — Hollande is making an obvious play for support from his base. It’s worth noting that Hollande’s approval ratings have – until this week – been in the doldrums. But this week’s upswing is not because of the “marriage for all” bill. What seems to have impressed French citizens is his decisive intervention against Islamist rebels in the north African country of Mali.
And what about the children who are at the center of this debate? For a kid’s eye view check out this fun video from L’Express called “the demo live from my stroller”
Poles and Italians get in on the act
Meanwhile the same-sex marriage debate is stirring in Italy and Poland, with more echoes from the U.S.
In Poland, where over 90 percent declare themselves Catholic and 54 percent say they go to mass at least once each week – three bills addressing same-sex partnerships are coming up to parliament, but none are expected to pass.
And as the Associated Press reports, Italy’s high court has ruled that a lesbian mother and her partner may continue to care for her child, to the chagrin of the child’s father — and the Vatican. The father said that living with a gay couple would damage the child’s development, a claim the court deemed as “mere prejudice.”
The Pope disagrees, as the AP reports:
On Vatican Radio, the Vatican official in charge of family echoed his argument in voicing opposition to legislative proposals in France to let gays adopt, saying children aren’t “merchandise” that people have a right to.
“In reality, the child must be born and grow up in … the ordinary way, that is with a father and mother,” Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, told Vatican Radio.