Massive protest in Paris, opponents’ last attempt before final vote
France, Sunday 24.03.2013. Families marching in the streets of Paris. The collective “la Manif pour tous”* demonstrated before the legislative proposal on same sex marriages was to be examined by the Sénat (France’s upper chamber) in a plenary session on the 4th of April. The manifestation garnered around 300 000 opponents to the legislative bill according to the police (1.4 million according to the people who organised it) and was therefore considered a success. However, the manifestation was marked with scuffles – some protesters wanted to spill over onto the Champs Elysees and the police fired tear gas. Protesters reported that whole families were caught up in the tear gas onslaught.
The demonstration against the same sex marriage bill has gathered more supporters than demonstrations against the successive attempts to reform the pension system**. This can give you an idea about how sensitive the topic is in France. The population is rather divided on the issue of homosexual marriage, according to a poll from the beginning of this year; around 60% of the French population are in favour of homosexual marriage and about 50% in favour of adoption. However, the opposition to the bill is not only conservative Christian associations, civil society organisations defending ‘family values’, right-wing and far right politicians as well as elected councillors, but also left-wing and gay associations against same sex marriage (see the complete list of participants drawn up by a journalist from Le Monde).
The opposition has been very vocal in campaigning; investing in media and calling for mass demonstrations in big cities. The spokesperson of the movement “la manif pour tous”, Frigide Barjot, a performer and columnist claims that instead of dealing with the same sex marriage bill, the government should better address social and economic problems, that the bill goes against the civil code and the principle filiation: that children are born from one father and one mother, therefore gay marriage and parenthood cannot exist. The collective contends to be representative of the French people and demands a referendum on the issue. In France, when people want to get married, they have to do so during a compulsory civil ceremony. Religious authorities: priests, rabbis, imams, etc., cannot act as civil official. Only a ceremony held by a state official has a legal value. The reason lies in the strict secularism applied in France, the so called “laïcité” principle. As a result, in the absence of legally recognised religious marriage, changing the civil code would affect all citizens. This is the core claim of the opponents. It can also explain the difference between the situations in Spain and Portugal. Both Catholic countries have adopted same sex marriage but religious marriage has a legal status there. Thus, people had a different perception of this change; the marriage as an ‘institution’ was less threatened.
The bill was already examined by the Assemblée Nationale (lower chamber of the Parliament), as the first stage of the legislative process and the articles dealing with medically assisted procreation for same sex couples has been removed and will be dealt with in a separate bill. The remaining provisions concern the right for same sex couples to marry; it removes the mention of man and woman in the article of the civil code dealing with marriage; it also gives the possibility for homosexual couples to start adoption procedures. According to the opponents, this would signify the ‘disruption of family values’ and ‘children stability’.
The text has good chances to be adopted during the Sénat plenary next week. Nevertheless, the majority is tight (6 votes) and there are dissidents on both sides. The text was adopted with a very narrow majority in commission; senators are pressured both by their peers and by mass opinion.
Let us hope that the senators will adopt the legislative proposal to make France live up to its motto “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” and join other European Member States where homosexual couples are not discriminated: Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.
* La Manif pour tous (literally “the demonstrations for all”) echoes the informal name of the legislative proposal for same sex marriages “le mariage pour tous” (marriage for all).