Gay Marriage: Why the Government Must Act Now!

Gay marraige rally. Paris, December 16. Photo: Pauline Proffit for La Jeune Politique.

Gay marraige rally. Paris, December 16.
Photo: Pauline Proffit for La Jeune Politique.

When elected officials face a political issue, they have two ways to solve it. On the one hand, they can (and often do) try to compromise: it gives to the decision a greater legitimacy and more supporters within civil society. On the other hand, they sometimes have the opportunity to force the decision and impose their views.

Of course, for this solution to work, they need a majority in Parliament. Since many democracies, including the French democracy, are conceived so that a single political party is able to govern, this condition is not a problem. The main problem of imposing one party’s view upon the Parliament and society is the lack of legitimacy if the decision is contested.

Now, what does all of this have to do with gay marriage?

Jean-Marc Ayrault’s government is currently being confronted with this dilemma. Opposition arose against the project of legalizing marriage and adoption for homosexual couples, and this opposition has been stronger than many expected. This opposition is structured around religious groups, principally from the Catholic Church, and has managed to gather the support of many around symbolic points of the law project: for example, the replacement of “father” and “mother” by “parent” in the law and the possibility for lesbian couples to undertake medically assisted procreation procedures.

The law’s opponents have been stronger and more active than its supporters. They are more numerous in the streets, and polls show that support for gay marriage and adoption is slowly falling. According to the polls, there is barely a majority in favor of gay marriage, and gay adoption is now a minority opinion.

Gay marriage rally. Paris, December 16. Photo: Pauline Proffit for La Jeune Politique.

Gay marriage rally. Paris, December 16.
Photo: Pauline Proffit for La Jeune Politique.

This opposition is indeed a challenge for the government. When President Hollande was elected, polls showed that strong majorities were supporting the project. But now he faces this dilemma: should he compromise over several points in the project to pass a more accepted law, or should he force the law into Parliament and divide the public?

Hollande was elected upon the promise that he would not divide the French society as his predecessor did. But since then, his popularity has decreased and many reproach him for the very foundation of his policy: compromise. Among his supporters, criticisms have arisen about his renunciation to pursue a Left economic policy. Among the other critiques, many have mocked his hesitancy and lack of authority.

The project of legislating on gay marriage offers him this double opportunity to silence his opponents. By not conceding, Hollande can affirm his engagement of the last policy field where the Left can actually act: social reforms. He will also show leadership against the opposition, and although it might divide the country, it will allow him to gather his supporters behind him and be stronger for the difficult year to come.

It is important that Hollande does not back down on this project, as it likely represents the most symbolic reform the Socialist President can hope to pass. It will be symbolic because it will establish once again France as a progressive country, one that applies the ideals of the Enlightenment to the 21st century by proclaiming universal rights without any distinction of sex, race, age, or sexuality.

It is further important that Hollande does not back down, as it will allow recognition of social practices that already exist. A form of civil union open to gay couples already exists in France. But this union is still incomplete, as they do not have access to civil marriage. Adoption by homosexual couples is also a reality, as single parents can already adopt children. But those children are not protected if something happens to their legal parent. Also, medically assisted procreation will allow non-fertile couples to raise children.

This project is important as it gives the Left a chance to offer their vision of society; one that is both inclusive and with comprehensive protection of rights for all. In a neoliberal economic system, there is a true challenge for the new majority to propose a different goal to hope and work for. While there are only few chances that the French Left will be able to influence the course of the world economy, it is a lot easier for them to weigh in on the evolution of French society.

For all these reasons, the President and the Government have to apply all their political strength to implement this capital reform. If they were to fail in doing this, they may lose more than a simple battle: the support and legitimacy from most of Hollande’s electorate is also at stake.

Hugo Argenton is LJP’s French columnist. He lives in Lille, France. The opinions expressed in this editorial are his own and are not indicative of LJP’s views.

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