For or Against: What the Gay Marriage Protests Tell Us About France

PARIS. – On February 2, the French National Assembly voted to legalize gay marriage, followed shortly thereafter by Great Britain on February 5. The path leading to the adoption of this article of the gay rights project was not simple, however, and was marked by several massive demonstrations from both sides. The French are no strangers to protests. It has even been called a national tradition, drawing millions to the streets on issues such as employment and retirement. But while these major protests are driven by left-wing ideals, social issues have been dominated by the right-wing, from protests against a ban on religious schools in 1984 to the rejection of civil unions in 1998. The subject of gay marriage is no exception, and while the left has recently attained victory in the National Assembly, the right seems to have won the fight of the street.

A CROWD UNACCUSTOMED TO THE STREET

The 400,000 people in the streets to speak out against gay marriage were not used to protests. Many of them insisted that this was the first time they had taken to the streets – others said they had not done it for over ten years. They had come from all over France in some of the 50 buses that had been reserved for the occasion. As a result, the costs were soaring at a million euros, making it an extremely expensive protest by French standards. Taking a jab at the name of the bill, “Mariage for All,” they named their initiative  “The Protest for All,” and made their logo a family with an identifiable mother, father and two children, which illustrated their movement well – their ranks were full of children, while the average age of the adults was around 50.

After several especially severe blunders during their last protest in December, including the assault of several protesters, the organization had grown in numbers significantly – hundrers of yellow and orange T-shirts stating “information” or “security” accompanied the crowd. In response to the outrage over the homophobic aspect of some of the signs in December, the wording had been drastically polished, with thousands of standardized signs being distributed and protesters holding unappropriate signs being asked to leave.

A mob of young people yelling hate words. Photo: Sasha Papazoff for La Jeune Politique.

A mob of young people yelling hate words.
Photo: Sasha Papazoff for La Jeune Politique.

From “controversial” to “an abomination,” the words of the protesters against gay marriage are harsh. While most of them insisted they are not homophobic, new terms surfaced, such as “homo-skeptic,” reflecting a lack of trust of gays and lesbians on the part of the society. “Gays are not fit to raise children,” they insisted. “A child needs a mother and a father.”

When asked about the estimated 300,000 children living in homosexual families, however, there was some obvious embarassement. “We don’t wish for it to happen” they said. “If there’s a problem, the courts can handle it,” one argued.

Through this protest and its slogans, new ideasmhave come forth from both politicians and religious entities, such as the idea that “children are not a right, they have rights” or that “parité” (the equal representation of men and women) would be hurt through gay marriages.

Despite these controversial aspects, a great effort was put towards making the protest as ecumenical as possible – organizers insisted that no specific faith or political orientation was dominant. In effect, the highs of the protest were extremely diverse – from kneeling during catholic prayers to a massive performance of the gangnam style dance.

If they could not stop the bill from being passed, they wanted a referendum.

THE ANSWER OF THE PRO-MARRIAGE PROTEST

Even though the date had been set-up beforehand, the significant number of protesters who came to support gay marriage was expressed as an answer to the previous protest. “Gays are just pissed off,” an elected official from the west region of Brittany told La Jeune Politique. “That’s why so many of them are here today.” Approximately 150,000 protesters had taken to the streets on January 27, mostly through the organization of the inter-LGBT group, with the official participation of the Europe-Écologie-les-Verts (EELV), Parti de Gauche (PG) and the Parti Socialiste (PS).

Happening only a week before the first votes would take place, the pro-bill protest had a very different atmosphere. Despite sending mixed messages, the government was showing to hold strongly in their promise to pass the bill, reassured by recent polls granting them 63% of popular support. Most of the crowd was young, with many people in their 20s dancing and singing. In front of cameras, two representatives from the National Assembly were kissing, and the passing protesters were applauding.

Photo: Sasha Papazoff for La Jeune Politique.

January 27 Gay Marriage Protest in Paris.
Photo: Seth Wise for La Jeune Politique.

Despite the overall relaxed atmosphere, some people who spoke with La Jeune Politique had a very different, much more tense approach. Many gay couples pushing strollers were wearing signs saying “The law says I don’t exist” or “The law says I’m single.” A man from the military said, “I could die tomorrow, and my child would be an orphan, even though I’ve been in a civil union with my partner for the past 4 years.”

While they were confined to the Catholic part of the anti-gay-marriage protest on January 13, many French flags could be seen on January 27. In response to the common belief that the flag was mostly seen as chauvinistic, protesters said, “We’re here to defend the principles of the Republic. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. All of those are reflected by the gay marriage bill.”

THE PROTESTS DO NOT END THERE

As the parliament was entering a session to vote on the gay marriage bill, opponents made themselves noticed once more. Civitas, a Catholic group, organized a public prayer close to the National Assembly, a risky enterprise in France, where secularism is held extremely high, which put the right-wing opposition in a tight spot. Within the next day, other opponents put banners up on bridges and highways in the Paris area for a few hours before they were taken down by police.

Their fight seems however lost, as the government just passed the first article of the law, official granting gay couples the right to marry in the same way as straight couples.

Comments

  1. Pascal V says:

    Interesting…

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