France’s gay marriage bill: nobody’s happy
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France’s government have unveiled the outline of its proposed same-sex marriage law, sparking the inevitable ire of conservatives but also irking gay rights activists, who say that without fertility assistance, marriage alone is a lousy deal.
Denis Quinqueton is not romantically engaged. And he’s certainly not dreaming of a fairytale wedding, nor of becoming a dad. But he wants the right to get married and have children. And he’s going to fight tooth and nail for “the best law possible” in order to see that happen.
Quinqueton heads the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) reflection group, “Homosexuality and Socialism,” which has been working with the Socialist Party on LGBT rights issues since 1993, when even civil unions seemed like a pipe dream. Today, the PACS civil union pact has been in place for 13 years, and Quinqueton and his fellow campaigners are nearing the final step in their battle for the same legal rights as their heterosexual counterparts.
Gay marriage was a hot topic during the run-up to the presidential election in May this year. While incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy laregly evaded the issue, François Hollande pledged to bring France up to date with many of its Western counterparts by making marriage available to all, thereby attracting a large chunk of the LGBT electorate.
On Tuesday, Justice Minister Christiane Taubira unveiled a rough outline of the Socialist government’s proposed bill, pencilled in for spring 2013. The new law “will extend the current arrangements of marriage to members of the same sex,” Taubira told Catholic newspaper La Croix. That means that a gay person can marry, adopt children and become a 'parent' of their partner's biological child in the same way that a straight person can today, she explained.
As to be expected, Taubira’s comments ruffled feathers among French hardline conservatives and Catholic advocates, who used the opportunity to reiterate their belief that marriage should only constitute a union between man and woman and that children should be brought up within a mother-father family unit. Christine Boutin, the leader of France's Christian Democratic Party and one of France’s most vocal conservatives, called for a referendum on the issue and warned of “heavy consequences for society” if the law were to go ahead.
Some spouses more equal than others
But among the LGBT community, the overall reaction was a sour one. While the long-fought-for law appeared to be taking shape, there was one major thing missing from the deal: medically assisted procreation.
France introduced the 'pacte civil de solidarité' or PACS in 1999, allowing couples (both heterosexual and homosexual) to sign a solidarity contract recognised by the state.
- Inheritance rules found in marriage do not apply, and neither do parenting rights.
- The couple must file joint income tax returns.
- Participants are recognised by the state as “pacsé” rather than single.
Judith Silberfeld, editor of LGBT magazine Yagg, told FRANCE 24 that the website’s readers were “incensed” by the Socialists' apparent change of tune. “We didn’t know exactly what to expect [concerning the precisions of the bill], but we had, nonetheless, been promised medically assisted procreation (MAP),” she explained. “Ms Taubira’s comments on Tuesday threw everyone into confusion.”
MAP, which involves methods such as artificial insemination, is popular among lesbian couples starting a family in countries where they are able to access services legally (such as Belgium and Spain). In the run-up to the May election, in which Hollande was elected president, the Socialist Party promised to make MAP – already available to straight couples in France – accessible to lesbians too. “Whether someone is heterosexual or homosexual, for us that doesn’t matter,” Paris MP George Pau-Langevin said during a debate in February. “What counts for us is prepared, stable parenting.”
Catherine Michaud, who heads GayLib, an LGBT movement associated with the conservative UMP party, agrees. “A child doesn’t have the right to a mother and father,” she told FRANCE 24. “It has the right to two loving parents.” Michaud, 28, argued that the very process same-sex couples are forced to go through proves their commitment to parenting. “As a lesbian couple, me and my partner can’t just wake up in the morning and say, we’re going to have a baby,” she said. “But without MAP, procreation is near impossible. It would be terribly hypocritical for the Socialists to introduce an ‘equality’ bill without allowing us the same parenting rights as our heterosexual peers. Half-hearted equality is not equality.”
Tug of war
Denis Quinqueton is optimistic nonetheless. “This is already a step in the right direction,” he said, promising to fight “hand in hand with all other LGBT outfits” for MAP rights to be included in the law before it is finalised in spring next year. Support from the ranks of progressive parliament is likely to help: MP Bernard Roman said that he “deeply regretted” the exclusion of MAP rights from Taubira’s plan and called for an amendment to the proposal, which was swiftly backed by numerous Socialist and Green Party colleagues and heralded by the Young Socialist Movement.
But on the other end of the spectrum, hardline conservatives have also pledged to dig their heels in. In anticipation of Taubira’s announcement, the Catholic Church-associated Civitas Institute on Sunday launched a campaign against gay marriage, to the tune of 100,000 euros. “We have six months to ‘readdress’ public opinion; to mobilise the French until they’re out protesting on the streets; and to influence enough MPs and senators until we bring this law down,” Alain Escada, leader of the group, told his supporters. The campaign was illustrated with a poster showing two scantily-clad men at a Gay Pride parade with the slogan: “Would you entrust children to these people?”
But they may find their convictions outdated: according to a BVA poll published in August, some 65 percent of French people support gay marriage and 53 percent support adoption by homosexual couples.