A Desire for Higher Perspectives? Young French Look Back at the Gay Marriage Debate

Pro Gay Marriage Protest in Toulouse on January 19.Photo: Flickr.com/charlotte henard

Pro Gay Marriage Protest in Toulouse on January 19.
Photo: Flickr.com/charlotte henard

PARIS. – After many months of battle and 110 hours of discussion, the same-sex marriage debate came to an end on Saturday, February 9, in the French National Assembly. The official vote on the entire bill took place on February 12. While the debate is just beginning in the Senate, it seems for the French people that a decision has been made.

La Jeune Politique spoke with two young activists about their impressions of these parliamentary debates.

Nicolas Rottier is a pro-marriage activist and member of the association Contact who has previously been interviewed by LJP. He was actively involved in all of the demonstrations in Paris and followed the debates with passion.

Charles Delort is a student in classical studies at the Sorbonne, is opposed to the reform and became actively involved in politics for the first time during the debate.

Even though their views diverge considerably, the two young men were rather disappointed by the debate in the Assembly, highlighting once again the feeling of distance the French experience from those who are supposed to their representatives. Indeed, the French witnessed what appeared to be more of a technical battle. The debates were overwhelmed by the number of amendments submitted by the opposition, while the majority had orders to remain silent as much as possible to avoid making it any longer, what some of them called “putting another coin in the jukebox,” referring to the alleged mechanical character of the opposition’s speeches.

Indeed, medically assisted procreation (Procréation Médicalement Assistée, PMA) and surrogacy (Gestation pour Autrui, GPA) were constantly present themes in the opposition’s arguments, even though they are not part of the bill. The members of the opposition were accused of parliamentary obstruction. According to the majority, bringing up the issues of GPA and PMA was only another strategy, in addition to the large number of amendments already submitted, to slow the debate and frighten the public.

Nicolas sees the PMA and GPA arguments as further proof that the UMP representatives are “ready to do anything to win, even lie.” According to him, they are only asking for equality, “nothing more, nothing less,” and such mentions were irrelevant. Nicolas also accused the media of “having a field day” talking about GPA.

Even though he acknowledges the use of this strategy that he called “heavy,” Charles does not think it was irrelevant. “What mattered was to reveal what the legal dynamic was” behind the bill. According to Charles, the current bill will create such an “unstable legal state” that it might lead, “one day” to other reforms regarding GPA and PMA. Nicolas, on the other hand, thinks that the opposition exploited “what was supposed to be a social advancement” to “differentiate itself.” He deeply regrets the fact that some members of the UMP who were in favor of the bill decided to remain silent, stating that “even the members of the UMP who were in favor of the equality of rights preferred to remain silent … this is only at the end that some loosened their tongues [and] ended up detaching themselves from the UMP.”

One of them was Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (NKM), who first said she would oppose the bill, then recently announced that she would just abstain. Many attacked her for the possibility that the change might be a strategic move so as not to alienate the gay community – an important goal in Paris where she will run for mayor in 2014. Nicolas sums it up, denouncing the “childishness” of French politics, which ignores “social insecurity.” As for Charles, he would have preferred the government to “take the initiative to organize the debate” instead of showing such incoherence and “disorder.”

There were several incidents during these long and tense debates, but one of the most significant remains the “pink triangle scandal.” Christian Assaf, a Parti Socialiste (PS) representative, said more or less innocently that “the era of the pink triangle was over,” referring to the pink triangle the Nazi regime made homosexuals wear. The opposition was outraged and counterattacked with the speech from Elie Aboud, from the UMP, implying that the children of the gay couple would suffer from “black triangle,” the one the Nazis gave to those who they considered to be socially maladapted. Christiane Taubira, Minister of Justice, reacted so strongly to these words that the members of hte opposition opposition left the Assembly.

According to Nicolas, this kind of reaction “is not helping in the long run.” He condemned it and judged it “as deplorable as when Xavier Bongibault [a young gay man opposed to the bill] compared Hollande and his government to Hitler’s regime,” mentioning what he sees as a scornful attitude towards the gays who are opposed to the bill. Asked about Taubira, Nicolas asserted with a hint of humor in his words that she had become “a genuine gay icon in a very short time.” As was everyone, he was impressed by her behavior. “We saw her laugh, shout and use a language rather uncommon until then in the Assembly.”

No one can deny that Taubira become the very symbol of the proponents in this debate, with t-shirts reading “#TeamTaubira” now sold on the Internet, and with Facebook events to offer her flowers. Not even reading her notes, Taubira gave a forty minute introductory speech, finishing with a quotation from a poem by Léon-Gontran Damas. After that, she acted as the conductor of the majority, barely sleeping in order to be present at every debate.

Charles analyzed this with a lot of insight, remembering that before the debate, Taubira was one of the weak points in the government and has now become a leading figure. He found it astonishing that the Prime Minister stayed much in the background, while Taubira was sent to the front, as a “fuse.”

He thinks that making Taubira, Minister of Justice, the leader of the debate, while the Minister of Family remained more in the background, was another strategy. Since the bill was accused of brutally changing the Civil Code, the fundamental text of French written law, the “underlying message” was that family as an institution was not attacked, because the bill only meant to change a few dispositions in the law.

More generally, Charles said that his opposition was rather “formal.” He explained that he had concerns about what this bill implied about the role of the lawmaker in democracy. According to him, law was previously here to frame a natural situation, the family, to give it rules and protect its members. He saw in the bill the will of the State to penetrate that institution, to create “fictitious filiations,” with law being the source of the structure, instead of framing it. His question was, “is this institution an empty shell that the legislator can modify at will?” Or is there a sort of natural law that he must follow? He voiced concerns about the possibility of mere representatives to overthrow such important laws so simply.

Charles attended several debates, during which he did not see any “evolution,” nor any “open discussion.” He was particularly astonished to be rejected by people who “refused categorically” to answer his questions, just because he was not in favor of the bill. He also handed flyers in the street for the big demonstration on January 13 . The protest itself was, for him “a really good moment,” one of his first real involvements in politics, despite his regrets that the perspectives of the debate did not reach farther. On the other hand, Nicolas is already planning to continue the fight with other associations, for instance on March 23, also acknowledging the fact the parliamentary discussions are neither the beginning nor the end of democracy.

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  1. […] for this sentence: “Hollande supports marriage for everybody… but himself” in reference to the debate over the same-sex marriage and how the French President has never been married, despite having had four children with his […]

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