Same-sex marriage in France: A heated, yet peaceful debate

Joshua Cova

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Image Courtesy of Benjamin Girette/Associated Press.

Although, same-sex marriage is increasingly more accepted in Europe and in the Western world, it still can cause heated debate between those who are in favour and those who are opposed to its legalization and institutionalization. This, at least, is clear when considering the manifestations which have taken place in January and February all over France, and in Paris in particular, and which were prompted by the government’s intentions to promote the legalization of homosexual marriages.

Before France’s presidential election took place in May 2012, current Socialist President, François Hollande, promised his electors that he would attempt to pass a law legalizing same-sex marriage, were he to be elected. Half a year later his successful electoral campaign, Hollande and his government have taken action and have presented to the French National Assembly – the equivalent of Britain’s House of Commons – Bill 344, which, if passed, would legalize same-sex marriages. On February 12 with 329 in favour and 229 naysayers, the Bill passed its first test: it has been approved by the National Assembly. Now the National Assembly’s decision will have to be ratified by the Senate and only then will the Bill finally become law.

The manifestations which took place before the Bill was passed in the National Assembly, are a sign of how split France’s public opinion is on the issue of same-sex marriage. In fact, on January 13, 340,000 demonstrators, according to police estimates, rallied in Paris in order to express their opposition to the government’s initiatives to legalize same-sex marriage. However, Marisol Touraine, minister of Social Affairs , told the French newspaper, Le Monde, that although the government acknowledged that the number of demonstrators was ‘considerable’, it would continue undaunted with its policy on the issue.    Few days after these protests, a more than 100,000 strong pro-government counter-manifestation took place. Once again from all over France, people streamed into Paris – which as usually is at the centre of the country’s manifestations – to voice their support for the government’s policies. Although thankfully clashes have been averted between the two sides, tensions were high in Paris and the police was on the alert.

France is not the only country whose people have increasingly become in favour of the institutionalization of same-sex marriage. In fact, if the law will be passed in the Senate, France would follow the lead of Spain, Argentina and the Netherlands for example, where pro same-sex marriage legislation has already taken place. Although officially recognized only in eleven countries and in some regions of federal states, like the United States and Brazil, promoters of homosexual marriages can feel confident that same-sex marriage legislation will be continued to be discussed in many countries. In fact, parliamentary debates on the issue are underway in Great Britain, New Zealand and Taiwan for example and will probably continue throughout the world in the coming years. The fact that same-sex marriage has been legalized in countries with strong traditional conservative and Catholic histories such as Portugal and Spain, also promises changes for the rest of Europe, in particular, and the Western world in general.

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Image Courtesy of Benjamin Girette/Associated Press.

Although policies which promote the legalization of same-sex marriage are often seen as a prerogative of the Left, in Britain this debate has been largely taken up by the current Conservative government. The similarities between the current situations in France and Britain are evident: in both countries the Bill which would sanction the legality of same-sex marriage has been approved by the lower house and is now awaiting ratification in the House of Lords and in the Senate respectively. Although, manifestations were not as apparent in Britain as they have been in France, the laws which would sanction same-sex marriage will still probably undergo heated debate throughout the country. Recent polls, however, suggest that both French and British societies have progressively moved in favour of legalizing same-sex marriages. In fact, a poll conducted by IFOP, a French company operating in the opinion poll and market research sectors, has revealed that in August 2012 approximately 65% of the French people would be in favour of same-sex marriage legislation.  Furthermore, another poll which has been conducted by YouGov and The Times across the Channel has found that 66% of Britons are also for the legalization of homosexual marriages. As one can see although there is not an absolute majority of people supporting the initiatives taken by the Socialist government in France and the Conservative one in Britain, it is fair to say that most Britons and Frenchmen would like to see Civil Partnerships  – marriages in all but name – to be replaced by actual, institutionalized marriages.

Although there has been much debate in France, as its government sets about in its task to legalize same-sex marriages, the situation has not escalated and the National Assembly’s successful passing of the law has been accepted rather peacefully. Considering that homosexuality was still illegal in the United Kingdom before 1967, for example, one can see that throughout Europe and other Western states a widening proportion of the public has now become in favour of homosexual marriages. One has now only to wait what the public reaction may be in France when in June 2013, Bill 344 will be either finally approved by the Senate or rejected. Whatever may happen it is extremely likely that once again manifestations  will take place and heated – and hopefully peaceful – debates will occur throughout the country.

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