A Look Back at the Same-Sex Marriage Debate

Gay Marriage Demonstration, Paris.Photo: Sasha Papazoff for La Jeune Politique.

Gay Marriage Demonstration, Paris.
Photo: Sasha Papazoff for La Jeune Politique.

Immediately after the French Assembly deliberated over the same-sex marriage bill, the British followed suit. In Britain, same-sex civil unions are already feasible and surrogacy is an available option for every couple, as long as it is not paid. To no surprise, the bill passed quietly, since on the other side of the Channel the passions and heated debates that tore the French apart never happened.

There, support of the bill transcends political divisions, and even David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, said he was in favor of it. Culture plays its full role here: in Protestant countries such as England, marriage was never a sacrament of the Church, while in Catholic France, family and marriage have been the foundational institution of the State.

Can the British serve as an example of the possibility of clean and calm political debate? No one can deny that in France, some words spoken on the part of the bill’s opponents, including associations between homosexuality, same-sex marriage, pedophilia, and incest, hurt many of the French (and not only the gay ones). But there is one thing we must acknowledge: despite those incidents, the majority of the opponents centered on arguments that can honestly be labeled as rational.

Religion, even in the mouths of religious authorities themselves, never became an argument in this debate. Only social, psychological, and legal arguments were set forth. The proponents of the bill will say that those arguments were questionable. But their arguments can be rationally discussed and can even sometimes be rejected, scientifically or otherwise. Purely moral or religious values cannot be debated in such a logical way. Who would have believed that Frigide Barjot, who became the charismatic leader of the opposition to gay marriage bill, would have shouted her love for gays and lesbians loudly and clearly each time she was invited to speak on TV. Every time a member of the opposition whispered any offensive or homophobic comments, a sense of awkwardness ensued amongst his colleagues.

Perhaps this is the deeper and more profound victory of this debate, besides the bill itself: at least for the time being, homophobia seems to have been rejected from the public sphere, where politicians and citizens decide of the future of the French nation. My goal is not to claim that the French who starkly opposed the bill suddenly rejected their previously-held beliefs and became gay rights supporters. There was an intolerable level of hate in this debate, normally invisible in the media, although it rose to the surface on occassion.

Some say that, because of all that hatred lurking beneath the courtesy of the political arena, a referendum would have be a disaster for the bill. It would clearly have been risky, this is obvious. Nevertheless, there is good reason to believe that a properly organized nation-wide debate could have raised the standard. The members of the opposition to the government claim that they were not listened by the majority. They are a little ungrateful: a strong though makeshift debate has organized itself, voicing the concerns of the public opinion. Asking for more debate would be too much.

The debate has been long (maybe too long), beginning even before Hollande’s election last May. We can be satisfied with the quality of the debate that took place, because this level of conversation was by no means a guarantee. There is no reason to be fully satisfied though: the French society deserved a shorter, better-organized debate that surpassed the narrow limits of politics.

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  1. […] order to avoid further conflict. Many blame the bill for splitting French society into two parts, while Hollande had pledged to reunite his society when he was elected. Indeed, Christiane Taubira, the Minister of Justice who defended the bill in the Assembly, praised […]

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