While we may normally associate French Revolutions with guillotines and ambitious Corsican corporals, there is no doubt that France has just undergone an equally radical upheaval which, this time around, will likely be accompanied by confetti and horse-drawn coaches. On Tuesday afternoon, the National Assembly in Paris passed President François Hollande’s most significant social reform to date: “Marriage for all,” including for gay couples. The measure passed with 329 for and 229 against. This is not really a surprise, considering the Socialist majority in the parliament, but it was nevertheless a highly controversial decision that brought thousands of angry anti-gay demonstrators to the capital’s streets as recently as January 13.
The new law grants gay couples the right to marry and adopt children. However, it won’t become the law of the land until the French Senate provides its consent later this year. This seems like a foregone conclusion, however.
While the measure might appear to come a bit late compared to more liberal laws in other European countries, the French probably thought they were acting in the spirit of Robespierre back in 1999 when they passed a law permitting “civil solidarity pacts,” i.e. marriage in nearly every respect except the word itself. But gay activist groups have been protesting the regulation ever since, arguing that homosexual couples deserve full equality before the law and pointing to studies showing that the children of gay parents are no worse off than those of straights.
While a majority of the French population accept gay marriage, only around fifty percent endorse gay adoption. For most Frenchmen and –women, a family still consists of a father, a mother, and one or more children descended from both. The Catholic Church has been leading the opposition to the reform, and on August 15 of last year, Archbishop André Vingt-Trois of Paris called upon the faithful to “pray away the gay” across the country. The Church and other opponents of marriage equality will be staging renewed anti-gay demonstrations on March 24.
By passing this law, France seems to be about to join the growing club of EU members permitting full gay marriage and adoption. While this right is becoming a matter of course in western Europe, eastern European countries still have misgivings about boarding the gay marriage bandwagon. In fact, the right-wing Hungarian Jobbik party – one of the most racist and reactionary on the continent these days – has been pushing strict anti-gay legislation since last year, including eight-year prison sentences for holding hands in public.
But there’s no reason to look down on eastern Europe in this regard. Most EU countries only decriminalized homosexuality in the 1980s, after which things started moving fast. The Netherlands legalized gay marriage and adoption in 2001, followed by Spain and other countries. The British House of Commons recently passed a law in favor of it. The German Bundestag is still holding back in regard to both gay marriage and gay adoption, but largely due to taxation and not “moral” issues. The EU charter formally banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 2006.
Despite the largely historically determined “asynchrony” of East and West on this issue, we are likely to see similar measures passed in Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia in the coming years. It’s a simple matter of justice – or do you have a better term to describe it?
Image source: AFP