Gay Marriage in France: When Church and State Divorce

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Gay Marriage in France: When Church and State Divorce

As the French government prepares to introduce a bill in March 2013 legalizing both same sex marriage and adoption by gay couples, the Catholic Church in France is asking private schools to “debate” the issue with students. Many teachers concerned by such a debate are not necessary pleased by the Church’s proposal.  Meanwhile, in keeping with the *hexagon’s tradition of descending into the streets to express public opinion on social and political matters, demonstrations are being organized by those opposed to the bill.

While such demonstrations are also a way for center and right wing opposition parties to muster support against the current socialist government, according to the newspaper Le Monde, 63% of French people, whatever their political orientation, affirm that they would attend the marriage if one of their children were gay. On the other hand, only 43% of the some 1,000 people polled declared they were for adoption of children by gay couples and only 47% were in favour of medically assisted procreation for gays.

The first county to legalize gay marriage and adoption was the Netherlands back in 2001. Then, in 2003, the European Parliament asked its members to abolish all forms of sexual discrimination in particular concerning marriage and adoption procedures. Since that time seven other countries (Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Portugal, Iceland and Denmark) have modified their constitutions, while Germany, Switzerland and Croatia have come to recognize a form of “civil union.” Though countries such as Italy, Romania, Poland or Malta remain formally opposed to gay marriage, the debate is currently underway in Greece, Finland, Luxembourg, Slovenia and in Britain where 53% of Brits have said they were in favour of such a law.

According to French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, because of the limited number of children actually up for adoption, the clause concerning adoption remains basically symbolic, but the bill would still allow each spouse to legally adopt his or her partner’s child. Some 62% of French people, all political tendencies combined, have declared that they would be in favour of a referendum as regards the bill. The last two referendums concerned lowering the French Presidential term from seven to five years (2000) and ratification of the European Constitution (2005).

There isn’t really clear agreement among either political factions or religious bodies’ own members, however. The main representatives of the center and right wing parties have decided not to participate in the demonstrations, while several prominent figures associated with President François Hollande’s socialist party are indeed choosing to participate, despite contradiction with the government’s official stand. France’s Chief Rabbi says he would be “disappointed” to see the bill pass, but he is not marching in any of the demonstrations, while one Catholic priest, 74 year old Laurent Laot from Quimper in Brittany, a region widely known as one of the Catholic strongholds in France, has actually come out in public support of the bill.

To better explain his position, Father Laot quotes article one of the 200 year old International Declaration of Human Rights which states that “all men are born equal in dignity and rights,” adding that he considers the bill to be, at this point in time, “a positive step in the right direction.” Laot also insists that, even if they are less outspoken than he is, most of the clergy in France agree with his point of view.  Father Laot insists on the fact that his public stand isn’t a matter of courage, but of conscience, adding that he is somewhat “astonished” at the Church’s insistence on an educational debate over the bill, since, at the heart of the Church, all possibility of debate on this sort of controversial subject is firmly discouraged.

The main criticism by French opponents has been the threat to replace the term “father” and “mother” in the civic code by the word “parent,” insisting that such a move would create non-discrimination between sexes. The problem has been solved during current commission debates. Article 4 of the proposed French bill now states that the terms “father” and “mother” should be understood as “parent” in the case of same sex marriages. This leaves the original code otherwise unchanged.

France’s first opposition march on January 13th brought some 400,000 people onto the streets of Paris, less than expected. The open floor Parliamentary debate is scheduled to begin in France on January 29th. It was a part of President Hollande’s campaign promises.  In a parliament with a Socialist majority, there is little doubt that the bill will pass, but only time will tell.

*hexagon: The French use this term as a synonym when speaking of France, since the country is virtually a perfect hexagonal shape. France has three maritime borders (the English Channel, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea) and five terrestrial borders (Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Germany and Spain).

photo 1 by Caroline Léna Becker [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr
photo 2 by Pierre-Selim [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr
photo 3 by Pierre-Selim [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr

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