By Nasos Abuel
As one walks along the Seine, Paris appears to be the same city Hemingway called home in the 1920s, or that James Baldwin did in the 1950s. Tourists swarm from landmark to landmark, or board the bateau-mouche ferries for a journey down the river, while Parisians take it easy for on another ordinary day in their marvellous home city. If one decides against a morning paper with one’s croissant, one will notice little evidence that this country has just experienced momentous social upheaval: the nationwide legalization of gay marriage, accompanied by the right to adoption.
The French pride themselves on living in one of the world’s most tolerant societies. In a country where secularism is entrenched in public life, homosexuality is usually not a subject of controversy. “I have several gay friends who are perfectly happy. We hang out and it does not bother me,” explained Marie, a student at the Université Paris IV Paris-Sorbonne. Nonetheless, the landmark Taubira Law (named for Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira, who spearheaded its adoption) passed on May 17, 2013, has provoked vociferous debate over how, or whether, the state ought to refashion the institution of marriage.
Gay partnership is not a novel concept in France. The 1999 passage of the Civil Solidarity Pact (PACS) allowed for civil unions between couples of any sexual orientation. Since then, gays have lobbied for the same legal recognition that is granted to heterosexual married couples, as well as for the right to adopt.
Since 1999, the center-right party Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) dominated government and muffled voices advancing the cause of gay marriage. But while concerns over the future of the French economy dominated the 2012 presidential election, Socialist candidate Francois Hollande pledged to make gay marriage possible. Once he was elected president, Hollande kept his promise, as the marriage bill squeaked past the Senate and sailed through the National Assembly.
The polls reveal that most French are partially on the side of the Taubira Law: as of February 2013, 66 percent supported gay marriage. On the other hand, the French are hesitant to countenance parental status for homosexual couples: 53 percent reject the notion of gay couples adopting children according to one poll. “Most people are fine with homosexuals living together, whether that is through the PACS or through marriage, but adoption is a different story,” Marie commented. “The majority is attached to the traditional view of family and cannot accept a child with two fathers or two mothers”.
The law has provoked the ire of the UMP, whose leader, Jean-Francois Copé, claims that the law contravenes “the values that form our society and children’s rights.” The UMP is convinced that civil unions establish equality between gay and heterosexual couples and obviate the need for gay marriage. “The civil union was sufficient in providing social acceptance for homosexuals, while preserving the prerogatives of marriage. It allowed gays to render their love official in front of the law without producing a margin for hostility and hate,” posited a member of the youth branch of the UMP who asked to remain anonymous. “Gays are human beings who must be respected. But the same also applies for the perennial values of family and marriage,” he said.
On the issue of adoption, the UMP is equally hostile. Most UMPs fear that gay adoption would assault the traditional notion of parenthood composed of a mother and a father, and some warn against the psychological harms that may be inflicted upon children raised by parents of the same sex.
Ultimately, one question remains to be answered: whether gay marriage will actually benefit the LGBT community. On January 13th, according to the BBC, some 340,000 to 800,000 people assembled to oppose the bill – double the number who convened six days later in support of it. “Those who are opposed to the principle behind it will never accept gay marriage. What’s more, they may be even more inflamed with the defiling of a dear institution, so that there may be an adverse effect on their general opinion on gays,” predicts Gille, a student at Université Paris-1 Panthéon-Sorbonne.
As the debate over gay marriage continues to fester in the U.S., the French case demonstrates how social legislation can become reality when there is a determined ruling majority. But even if the politics of the law have been dealt with, its impact on the ground remains to be seen.
Nasos Abuel ’16 is a sophomore in Pierson College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.