France Gay Marriage Bill: Why the Country Was Divided On It

 

On Tuesday, the French parliament approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption, following a divisive public debate.

France becomes the 14th country to pass a law allowing gay marriage, and follows New Zealand last week.

The debate about gay marriage has divided the country, as it is seen as the most controversial social reform since the abolition of the death penalty in 1981. Even though the opposition is fierce, President Francois Hollande was convinced that the bill would become a law. The bill has sparked protests both for and against the law.

Hollande's assurance was founded in the fact that his party constitutes the majority in the both houses, the parliament and the senate. At this point, the only real question in the debate is how the public will react. The opposition of the marriage equality became highly violent in the last few days. Last week three police officers were hurt and two vehicles damaged in scuffles with anti-gay marriage protestors near Paris' Champs Elysees avenue. Twelve protestors were arrested and charged with deliberate violence. After the incidents in Paris four men have destroyed a gay bar in Lille, a town in the northern France. As the proprietor of the bar said, those men have come to beat the gays. Moreover, Hollande’s administration might face some institutional problems after the adoption of the law. Namely, around 15,000 mayors in France have declared that they will refuse to marry gay couples even if the law is adopted.

Sharper tones are meanwhile being heard in Parliament as well. ''I accuse you, ladies and gentlemen of the left,'' said Philippe Cochet of the center-right UPM, ''Of murdering children. It is a scandal,'' in reference to the draft law on gay marriage under debate in the National Assembly. His comment provoked a lot of disapproval and the chairman had to dismiss the session. "Those who are for more equality must also make themselves heard," said Bertrand Delanoe, the Paris mayor who is himself gay, describing the recent violence as "a form of barbarism and regression."

From Lady Gaga to Brad Pitt, Anne Hathaway to George Clooney, Kim Kardashian to Jay-Z and even conservative Clint Eastwood, it is hard to come up with an American celebrity that has not at some point spoken out in favor of gay marriage. In France, the situation is different. The stars did not come out to support the proposal. One of the possible explanations is that it is not in French culture for stars to take political positions. However, some stars did come out in defense of marriage and adoption equality, but did so later in the game, when it was quite sure that the bill will pass, as President Holland’s party held the majority in the both houses of Parliament.

On Sunday, thousands of opponents of a gay marriage bill thronged the streets of Paris in the last-ditch to bid to block the legislation. The polls show diverging results. While most French people are in favor of gay marriage, the majority opposes adoption by gay couples. As the proposed law mixes the two together, it creates confusion within the mostly Catholic community.

The bill was largely supported by the ruling Socialists, their allies in the Green Party and the Communists, and opposed by the main opposition UMP and other right-wing and center-right parties. As the majority of the assembly is in favor of the bill, it is certain that the bill will become a law. However, the procedure won’t end there, as the conservative opposition UMP has vowed to challenge the constitutionality of the gay marriage law in front of the constitutional council.

In any case, the importance of France as a major European state adopting gay marriage is most probably going to be a trigger for other European countries to adopt the similar legislation, which will open a new chapter of equality in Europe and once again confirm the French symbol phrase –Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

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Marko Ceperkovic

As Policy Advisor at the U.S. House of Representatives Marko is dealing with Foreign Affairs, Defense, Immigration and Human Rights issues. At the same time he is a fellow at Johns Hopkins SAIS, participating in the Aitchison Public Service Fellowship in Government. Before coming to Washington, Marko lived in France, studying at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris. As former Executive Director's Assistant at Helsinki Committee for Human Rights he led Human Rights Schools for Western Balkans, while at the same time presiding over the Commission for Youth Rights in Serbia.

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