The Marriage for All bill, allowing new rights to same-sex couples, was backed by President François Hollande's Socialists and other left-wing MPs on 12 February 2013, when it passed in the lower house (the National Assembly) by a vote of 329 to 229. Two months and ten days later, after a heated debate that even saw MPs in fisticuffs, the text was finally adopted by French parliament, and on May 18th it was signed into law by the President.
In 1791, after the Revolution, France was ahead of the times when it decriminalised homosexuality and so it’s surprising to see that the so-called land of love and equal rights climb aboard the same-sex bandwagon much later than its neighbours like the Netherlands (where gay marriage has been legal since 2001), Belgium and Spain, or Argentina, South Africa, Canada and six American states.
And yet according to a 2012 INSEE poll, 70% of the French don’t think it is important for couples living together to get married, and marriage dropped about 50% between 1970 and 2011.
Christophe Barbier, managing editor at L’Express, stated that marriage itself is an “obsolete institution,” adding, “In the era of globalisation this norm is as artificial as it is inefficient, as shown by the fact that divorce has become commonplace.”
In times of perpetual crisis and economic gloom, certainly the country’s government should be focusing on job creation and reforms, not wasting time on an issue that, according to a 2011 IFOP survey for Têtu, touches only 3% of the French population.
So what’s the big deal? Even French celebrities have been weighing in on the issue. Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, who admitted to Vice magazine that he was opposed to same-sex marriage, spoke to The New York Times: “I’m against it for a very simple reason: In the ’60s they all said we had the right to the difference. And now, suddenly, they want a bourgeois life. Why can’t people who live together have the same security as bourgeois marrieds?”
While at one point 55% to 65% of the French claimed to support gay marriage, only about 50% favour gay adoption. Lagerfeld said that he was “less enthusiastic” about a child having two dads rather then two moms. “A child without a mother, that’s a bit sad.”
Catherine Denueve said on the Petit Journal du Lundi Soir earlier this month that she was “perplexed” by marriage for all. “We marry a lot and divorce a lot, so I think in time this will be scary. There are very few children in school with a father and mother. I would have preferred to see PACS encouraging adoption by homosexuals."
Same-sex civil unions – pacte civil de solidarité, or PACS as it’s more commonly known – have been recognised since 1999 in France. However this law does not carry the same rights as for married couples, nor does it provide for adoption or medically assisted procreation (MAP).
This is where things get controversial, and the reason why thousands of protestors have taken to the streets across the country (as well as wanting to express an overall disapproval of Hollande). For years, the idea of the nuclear family has been challenged with the rise in divorce. Just watch an episode of Modern Family to see how single-parent, extended or blended (recomposé) families have become the norm. And yet, in the case of adoption or say IVF for same-sex parents, when a child’s psychological development is at stake, the myths around homosexuality seem to put people’s backs up against the heterosexual wall.
Until 1973 – only 40 years ago – homosexuality was classified as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association.
How “normal” can a same-sex parent-child relationship be? Could a child’s gender be skewed by same-sex parents? Or would a child adopted by two mums or two dads face bullying from his or her peers?
The American Psychological Association (APA) found that “same-sex couples are remarkably similar to heterosexual couples, and that parenting effectiveness and the adjustment, development and psychological well-being of children is unrelated to parental sexual orientation”.
As for a person's sexual orientation, the APA asserts that “most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation”.
However, some research indicates that bullying could be a problem when children become teenagers. Education will play a key role in addressing and preventing problems with these issues. To draw a comparison, not so many years ago it was children from divorced parents who were subjected to merciless teasing from their peers. We’ve come a long way.
There’s no question that times are changing but the question isn’t about marriage for all, but the capacity to redefine our laws and find better ways to interact. “All you need is love …” the Beatles sang. But that was a very long time ago.