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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Le Mariage pour Tous (Gay Marriage)

Excellent article up on Arun's blog, Arun with a View, about the recent passage of a law that authorizes marriage between gay and lesbian couples here in France.  It is commonly referred to as Le Mariage pour Tous (Marriage for Everyone).

Like Arun, I was not very comfortable discussing it during the rather bitter political fight that went on as the law was being debated.  Back in February I wrote this post expressing my uneasiness at being asked to take sides.  I am not yet a French citizen and I drew the line at signing any petition that implied I was one which made a few people very unhappy with me.

How I feel about this personally is informed by my upbringing in the U.S.  I knew gay couples in my youth, some of whom had children.  The parents were good people (in one case I know of there were four parents) and the kids were just like any other kids.  Did they make mistakes?  Of course but not any more than any other parent.  During the AIDS epidemic in the 1980's I watched the grief of one partner in a long-term (decades) relationship when his partner got sick and later died.  You can't tell me that these two were not together in all the ways that matter and it seemed so unfair that their relationship did not have legal status.

In France there is the wedding at the mayor's office and, for those who wish it, a wedding at the church or synagogue.  For me the first was perfectly nice but it was a formality we had to go through in order for my spouse and I to be able to be together in France.  The one that counted was the wedding at the church.  The French state could authorize polygamy tomorrow and I wouldn't bat an eye.  There is civil marriage and then there is religious marriage - the first is for legal certainty but the latter is a sacrament.

What's kind of ironic in this entire debate is that marriage (civil or religious) is going out of style here in France.  Very few of the young couples I know are actually married - the PACS (civil partnership) is preferred.  In 2010 the number of births here outside of marriage was a whopping 54%.  It's rather funny that an institution that is being abandoned more and more by straight couples is the object of so much controversy when eligibility is expanded to include gay couples.  It may be that this new inclusive law will be the only thing holding up civil marriage in France in the future - so much for the idea of "Marriage for Everyone."

Arun's post is interesting on several levels.  He points out that the debate over gay marriage in France is not a mirror of the debate in the U.S.  The law in France was opposed by quite a few people on the Left like students and feminists.  The churches here certainly played their part but it wasn't simply the Religious Right against the Progressives.

Once again this shows the danger of looking at any issue solely through the prism of what is going on in one's own country.  The conversation is not the same and there can be as many faux amis (false friends) as there are genuine similarities.

Enjoy the post and your day of rest.


Berliniquais said...

Hello Victoria,

I was so sure that you were wrong and that marriage as an institution was becoming more popular again, so I checked INSEE official stats and... how wrong I turned out to be! You're absolutely right (as often).

The number of weddings celebrated yearly in France has sunk steadily from above 305,000 in 2000 to 237,000 in 2011, while the number of PACS rose from 22,000 to above 205,000 within the same timeframe, an approximately tenfold increase!

I was so unaware of these trends. This shows how personal experience from one's environment are irrelevant. Because I'm going to tell you, Victoria, I'm in my early thirties and ALL my French friends of my age are married with just very rare exceptions (including me). Every year I'm forced to travel to more and more far-flung places and fork out increasing sums of money to celebrate undying vows... and now the time for the first divorces is coming too. So based on my personal experience I thought that marriage was definitely gaining ground in France. Quelle surprise for me to see that it was wrong

Berliniquais said...

Therefore I will refrain from challenging your other assertion in your post, which is that opposition to gay marriage in France was not particularly religious or conservative as opposed to the situation in the USA.

My personal experience does tell me the opposite though. I've had unending debates mostly by e-mail with deeply Catholic and conservative friends of mine. They started the discussion by the way, after I wrote a blog post where I was not taking sides but just exposing the lies and hypocrisy of a député from Martinique on the question. Unsurprisingly my Catholic friends turned out to be all against gay marriage, and sadly felt compelled to answer as if I had attacked them when I denounced the complete lies told by our député in the National Assembly.

It was a low point in my friendship with them and I was sometimes quite shocked by some things they wrote. I'm very glad it is over now (except for a few diehards). The role of the Church in the debate has been quite obvious.

Phew, let us all enjoy our summer vacations now. In September, hopefully, the nation will have other things on its mind!

The Lady Dee said...

"Very few of the young couples I know are actually married - the PACS (civil partnership) is preferred. In 2010 the number of births here outside of marriage was a whopping 54%. It's rather funny that an institution that is being abandoned more and more by straight couples is the object of so much controversy when eligibility is expanded to include gay couples. "

Personally, I find this quite frightening.

You know 40 years ago, when we got married, it was quite "unfashionable." People prefered to have "significant others" back then.

Blaze said...

Same sex marriage has been legal in Canada for 10 years. Initially, there was a bit of an outcry, but today most Canadians simply accept it. Many of us delight in the marriages of our same sex friends.

We watch the rest of the world struggle with this issue and wonder what all the fuss is about.

My sister and her long-time partner came to Canada from US about nine years ago where they were married by a United Church minister, despite the fact they are both Catholic. (The Catholic Church and some others still do not perform same sex marriages in Canada)

Unfortunately, they have not felt comfortable telling American friends and family about their marriage. So, they continue to feel they must live with a secret.

They are in a state which does not recognize same sex marriage, so last week's Supreme Court ruling does not help them.

They may consider retiring in a few years in a state which does recognize same-sex marriage.

Even better, they would love to retire in Canada where they feel far more accepted both formally and informally.

My sister's wife is an "accidental Canadian" so she could sponsor my sister as her wife for immigration in a way I cannot as my sister's sister.

Unfortunately, IRS, FATCA, FBAR, etc. make that dream of a Canadian retirement a near impossibility.

Tim said...

What do you think of this article.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi JM. Good to see you! I was surprised by the numbers too and I'm going to look into why the PACS is so popular and why people choose it over marriage. I think it will make a great post. Among my friends and family are quite a few older people whose children have refused marriage (almost all my husband's younger cousins, for example). When we were in Tokyo I met French couples with children who only got married because it was the only way the Japanese would allow the accompanying spouse a residency permit.

I remember your post and it was a good one.

I'm sorry to hear that it caused problems with your friends. I've been smacked around a bit when I suggest that polygamy in some form has been part of French tradition for years. :-)

@Lady Dee, Those were the days. As I said to JM I think this merits further investigation. Why is the PACS so popular? Any ideas.

@Blaze, Good point. Gary marriage may be settled internally but there is still the issue of dual national couples to be worked out. Not all states recognize anything other than heterosexual marriage for immigration purposes. That might be a good one to research as well. Surely immigrations laws will change too.

@Tim, Yeah I saw the article. Happy coincidence - I am reading Le Bras/Todd's book Le Mystère français

Lot of fascinating research on education, feminism, religion, workforce participation and the like. It gives some context around that article and the ones that have appeared in the French press. I'm going to finish the book first and then write a post about all these changes and the current state of French emigration.

aloha19 said...


I am a member of a same sex couple who have been together 33 years, but were only allowed to be married 3 years a go in D.C....

Marriage is so important first and foremost because of immigration issues. I was not able to sponsor my husband to immigrate to America because of this, until the hated DOMA was struck down last week!! This has made our life HELL! Also, children of gay people need t know that their parents love and commitment is equal before the law. Young gay people need to know they are cherished and equal citizens the hate unleashed in France has been quite shocking. We are thinking of moving back too Spain, where this is not an issue!

Christophe said...

From apart, I didn't quite understand the issue in France. Why couldn't they just fix the PACS to give people who choose that kind of contract the same right as those who marry.

From Wikipedia: the PACS "is a form of civil union between two adults (same-sex or opposite-sex) for organising their joint life. It brings rights and responsibilities, but less so than marriage. "

This issue is mainly a benefits issue, in order for same sex couples to have the same benefits (inheritance, immigration, etc) as married couple. Whether they call it PACS or marriage is irrelevant. It's playing with words. Whatever they call it, it's not going to change the fact that same sex couples might not have the same benefits outside the border where the law was passed.

The children's issue is to my mind a much more important one. I deeply believe that a child needs both a mother and a father.
What will be the psychological impact on a child of having 2 moms or 2 dads. Is it worse for a little girls to be raised with 2 dads or vice versa? Are these kids going to see homosexuality as the norm because they were raised in a gay family? What impact is this going to have long term on a society?

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@aloha - I understand. Some of the rhetoric was shocking. My parish priest even felt the need to speak out about it a few Sundays ago. Some of the comments, he said, were not dignified of people who call themselves Christians.

I agree with you about the children. Another group that is impacted by this biological bias (and very limited vision of "family") is, of course, step-parents. That one parent could legally cut a person who has been part of a child's life for years is pretty scary for a kid. I should know - I have a stepfather myself. He's been in my life for 35 years and he has been my father since I was 12 years old.

@Christophe, Before I left the US long ago I knew families with 2 moms and 2 dads. Honestly I didn't see any problems there that don't occur in families with a mom and a dad. They were perfectly normal kids.