PARIS – They were at least 300,000 according to the police, but the protestors claim their numbers were closer to 800,000. The opponents of gay marriage rallied from all over France and swarmed Paris this Sunday, January 13 to protest against the “marriage for all” bill, which would grant the right to marry to homosexual couples. France has had civil unions (know as PACS, pact of active civil solidarity) since 1998, despite an initial controversy. Gay marriage, however, would include the right for gays to inherit from their partners after death and give them access to adoption as a couple.
Until now, gays could adopt in France, but only as individuals. This means only one of the two has the parental authority and the other one is merely a “caretaker,” with rights closer to those of an aunt or uncle than a parent.
Although gay marriage was one of the 60 promises made by President François Hollande during his campaign, and polls indicate about 65% of French people back the measure, the opposition has been massive and diverse. Religious communities, the Catholic Church in particular, have found allies in large numbers, mainly from the Right but also from more conservative factions of the Left.
La Jeune Politique went to meet with them this Sunday, January 13 to gain some first-hand insight regarding their concerns and motivation.
The protest was made up of four different groups, heading in three different directions and meeting at the Champs de Mars, in front of the Eiffel Tower. Separate from the three others was the Christian group, organized by the fundamentalist group Civitas.
The Civitas protesters met at Place Pinel, where they remained from 1 p.m. until as late as 3 p.m. before they were allowed to leave, because they had to wait for the rest of the protesters to go ahead in front of them. The atmosphere of their group was unified – a priest read sermons and prayers from his iPhone into a microphone plugged into blasting speakers on a truck decorated with banners. Some of the royalist flags – the French flag with the heart and crown on it – were being waved.
Families seemed to make up about half of the protesters, and many parents and their children were among those praying. Many signs invoked the sanctity of marriage, but others protested abortions and homosexuality, describing it as “disorganized” and “unnatural.”
While many were reluctant to speak with a reporter, there were a few protesters willing to shed some light on why they were there. Jean-Gabriel, 54, who came from Auvergne for the protest, explained, “I’m here to defend the conception of marriage as being between a man and a woman. The government seems to be confused.”
When asked about the relationship between his faith and this belief, he rejected the notion that he was only motivated by religion. “This is both a religious and civil definition. The Napoleonic civil code says so. I have no opinion in particular against the PACS; nowadays people want legal security, I’m not against that. But marriage is out of the question.”
Protesters also gatehered at Place d’Italie, coming together at the call of the “protest for all” -a play on the slogan of gay marriage proponents “marriage for all.” The level of preparation and professionalism of the organizers was obvious from the get-go. As protesters were stepping out of the metro a station away from the rally point (the actual station had been closed down by police), a group of ten organizers – wearing easily recognizable yellow shirts – were handing out pamphlets with explanations, songs and quotes, and indicating the way to the metro. Others, in orange T-shirts, served as security, using walkie-talkies to communicate about possible disturbances.
Meanwhile, certain aspects of the protest were rather offensive – a group of young people waving a banner saying “Marriage for All” from a balcony were being yelled at to “go hang themselves” and were called “gouines” (dykes). This, however, seemed to be an isolated incident. When other windows along the path of the protesters exhibited similar banners, security surrounded them to shield them from possible harassment.
Across the street from a banner reading “Egalité” was Geneviève, 56, who also came from Auvergne. She was holding a banner that read, “A father, a mother, that’s natural.”
“I’m here to defend real marriage. A child needs to know who his mother and father are,” she told me. “There are very few adoptable children in France. Children are adopted from overseas, they’re already disturbed by the change of climate and political landscape; if they have homosexual parents, they’re going to be even more confused, and they might even be bullied.”
When asked if she knew of any such situation, she said, “I met a lesbian couple, they each had a child with a different man, can you imagine? One of them is the mother of one of the children, the other one isn’t… it’s all very messy. What do you call them then? Mom 1, mom 2? It doesn’t make sense.”
Further down the street was Mathieu, 28, an executive in a private company and his friend Guy, 27.
“My problem is that they want to get rid of the terms ‘Father’ and ‘Mother’ to replace them with ‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2.’ What then prevents them from adding a Parent 3 or 4? We can’t make these kinds of things official.”
However, the bill makes no mentions of such terms. “Father and mother” will be replaced by “the parents” in certain articles, such as Article 145, which states “minors cannot contract a marriage without the consent of their parents” (instead of “their father and mother”), as stated by Erwann Binet, the socialist protractor for the bill, who says otherwise the terms “mother” and “father” will be kept in the civil code.
When asked about the children already living with homosexual couples, Guy said, “we should keep things the way they are. Right now, if there’s a problem, the case can be heard in court, and it’s the best solution. You shouldn’t play around with such an old institution, it’s too early to judge based on foreign examples of gay marriage to know what effects they really have.”
Unfortunately, many of La Jeune Politique’s interviews were cut short by bystanders instructing others “not to speak to journalists” for fear they would “twist their words.” When asked about these occurrences, one support team member, Emeric, 31, denied that any instructions were given out. “You can ask me anything you want,” he said. “We all came for a father and a mother. I understand that a lot of situations exist, but that doesn’t mean they should be made official.”
He says that the first thing protesters want is a debate. “It’s like the government is trying to shut down all debates. They had several weeks of commissions where they interviewed religious figures, but they didn’t take any of their depositions into account. They’re trying to impose their will on the French people, based on the LGBT lobby’s opinions. Well, they’re not the only ones with an opinion, some people got up at 3 in the morning to be here today.”
When it comes to what they expect of the government, most protesters answered that they want a referendum.
“I think most people in France are against gay marriage,” said Linda, 24. “They just don’t speak up. I don’t believe the polls, I think if there’s a referendum, we will win.”
The latest poll indicated that French people were largely in favor of gay marriage but more torn when it comes to adoption. However, a referendum is very unlikely – the legality of the process itself is questionable, as many jurists argue today that such a process would be unconstitutional. However, the voice on the street seems to be echoing that of right-wing leaders like Jean-François Copé.
The heavy presence of religiously motivated individuals and organizations despite France’s stance of “laïcité” (secularism) is a surprise for most of the country. Debates over the place of religion in public space, mostly aimed at Muslim practice, divided French society during Sarkozy’s presidency. Yet today, Islam and Christianity seem to have united in a fight against gay marriage. They were not alone, however, as many families but also young people were on the street today to defend “the rights of children” to have “a mother and a father.” It is unlikely, however, that the extent of this protest will have any effect on the decisions of the government. The bill could be voted on either in February or March.
“It would be disastrous,” says Melissa, 28. “The family as we know it would be destroyed.”
When asked about the repercussions in countries that have already legalized gay marriage, she argues, “You’ll see, they’re all getting surrogate pregnancies, soon they’ll legalize incest.” Much like in the United States, the slippery slope argument seems to be the first and last one in this debate.