The French Parliament has approved gay marriage.
I started reading the article, The French Debate Gay Marriage, in Their Fashion, from Sunday’s New York Times thinking I wouldn’t learn much. Wrong. Turns out some of the ambivalence about gay marriage has to do with ambivalence about marriage generally.
“After May ’68, if you were modern, you didn’t get married,” said Frédéric Martel, organizer of the Rond-Point event and author of the new book, “Global Gay: How the Gay Revolution is Changing the World.” “Now we’re at a moment when we are all a bit hysterical about marriage — gay marriage. But this is really a conservative movement, about stability in society and being good parents and protecting children and becoming rather ordinary.”
Seventy percent of the French do not think it is important for couples living together to get married, according to an Insee poll in 2012. Fewer than four marriages for every 1,000 citizens were performed in France in 2011, compared with nearly eight in 1970.
The civil solidarity pact legislation, which was intended to give gay couples many of the rights of marriage, has been used overwhelmingly by straight couples as a kind of “marriage light.” It is so popular as an alternative to marriage that in 2010, there were four civil unions for every five marriages.
And then there are feminist concerns.
Some feminist lesbians think a change in the law is retrograde. In Elle, the historian Marie-Josèphe Bonnet called marriage an “instrument of domination” and same-sex marriage a project of gay men, not lesbians.
“We want to be able to exist socially as women, without being a mother or ‘the wife of,’ ” she said. Asked why she didn’t mobilize lesbians against the law, she said, “No one can be opposed to equality.”
Plus the fact that the French President, Francois Hollande, has never married.
Mr. Hollande, who made passage of the same-sex law a campaign promise, is a model for unmarrieds. He never married Ségolène Royal, the mother of his four children; she called herself “a free woman” and marriage a “bourgeois institution” when she ran unsuccessfully for president in 2007. There is no indication he intends to marry Ms. Trierweiler.
Valerie Trierweiler supports gay marriage.
When Valérie Trierweiler, the partner of France’s president, François Hollande, announced that if the law came into effect she would attend the wedding of two gay friends, Bernard Debré, a center-right deputy, wrote on his blog that she had no right to enter the debate. “She’s just the mistress of the French president,” he said.
The French support marriage but aren’t so sure about adoption by same sex couples.
While 63 percent of the French favor same-sex marriage, according to a poll by the French Institute of Public Opinion released last Saturday, 49 percent favor the right of same-sex married couples to adopt. There is less support for legalizing artificially induced pregnancies for gay couples. And some liberals and feminists consider surrogate motherhood an exploitation of poor working women by the rich.
“It introduces the notion of the child as merchandise,” the historian Max Gallo said on France Culture radio last Sunday. “You rent a belly and buy the product.”
The concerns of the French who are generally supportive are very different from those of Americans. Here it is viewed as a matter of equality and civil rights. Here in the United States, we, for the most part, still believe in marriage. We got past the era when it was an institution of our parents.
But the views of the opposition are pretty much the same in both countries. The New York Times reported on an anti-gay marriage rally held in January.
“Nobody expected this two or three months ago,” said Frigide Barjot, a flamboyant comedian leading the protest. At the rally, she read out a letter to Mr. Hollande asking him to withdraw the draft bill and hold an extended public debate.
Strongly backed by the Catholic Church hierarchy, Ms. Barjot and groups working with her mobilized churchgoing families and political conservatives as well as some Muslims, evangelicals and even homosexuals opposed to gay marriage to protest.
“The French are tolerant, but they are deeply attached to the family and the defense of children,” said Daniel Liechti, vice president of the National Council of French Evangelicals, which urged its members to join the march.
Opponents of gay marriage and adoption, including most faith leaders in France, have argued that the reform would create psychological and social problems for children, which they believe should trump the desire for equal rights for gay adults.
Protesters in Paris opposing gay marriage.
I think both sides will find out what we have already learned in Massachusetts: The sky won’t fall.
Photograph: Marriage for all Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters
Photograph: Protesters Getty Images.