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Catholic Church weighs in against gay marriage

4 min

Legalising gay marriage and adoption was central to President François Hollande’s election manifesto. But it is coming against stronger than expected opposition, with the Catholic Church joining calls for the proposed law to be rethought.


The French Catholic Church has joined a chorus of opposition against proposals to legalise same-sex marriage and adoption, which were a cornerstone of Socialist President François Hollande’s election campaign.

The bill is due to be presented at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting -- but the parliamentary debates on a law that should have been a walk-through for the president have been postponed to January amid stronger than expected opposition.

Over the weekend Cardinal André Vingt-Trois (pictured), head of the French Council of Bishops, branded gay marriage “the ultimate deceit”.

In a sermon at pilgrimage site Lourdes in south-west France, he defended the sanctity of heterosexual parenthood and insisted that children “should be raised with a mother and a father as their reference point”.

The Catholic Church’s stance on the issue follows similar statements from the head of France’s Protestant congregation, the leader of the French Council of the Muslim Faith and also France’s Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim.

“[In the context of same-sex couples] the arguments about equality, love and the right to have children do not justify them being written into law,” Bernheim wrote in right-wing daily Le Figaro.

Church ‘straying from its role’

France’s ruling Socialists hit back immediately.

National Assembly Member Erwann Binet, who authored the bill, called on the Catholic Church to “open its eyes to the realities of the families that constitute the modern society -- single parent families, families headed by same-sex couples, families where couples are remarried.”

Socialist Party Spokesman David Assouline accused the Church of “straying from its role in opposing the will of the legislature.”

“The people voted for the Socialists in universal suffrage,” he said adding that it was not the Church’s place to criticise the government “when it comes to the issue of civil marriage in our secular state.”

Rural revolt

The Church’s opposition to the bill, dubbed “Marriage for Everyone”, follows a rebellion in the countryside, where local leaders from across the political spectrum have been campaigning for a “conscience clause” that would allow mayors the right to refuse to perform same-sex marriages.

Some 1,200 French mayors and their deputies have signed a petition protesting against the proposed law, highlighting a gulf of opinion between French cities, where homosexuality is widely accepted, and rural France, which is more socially conservative.

And in recent weeks, the secular pro-life organisation “Pro Vita” has staged demonstrations under the banner “One Mummy and One Daddy” in scores of cities across France.

Opposition is not limited to the Church and countryside. Jean-Francois Copé, chairman of the opposition centre-right UMP and a hopeful in the party’s forthcoming election for its presidency, has called for mass street protests against the plans.

Former UMP Prime Minister François Fillon, whom pollsters have beating Copé to become the UMP’s next presidential candidate, has indicated that he would repeal the law if he came to power.

‘Parent 1’ and ‘parent 2’

Even in Socialist ranks there is disagreement, with Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault saying he wants to see a reduced law that would not give same-sex couples access to medically assisted procreation services such as IVF, as will be presented in the draft bill.

And even the politically neutral state child benefits agency has been openly critical of plans in the bill to scrap traditional “mother” and “father” entries in official records, which would be replaced by “parent 1” and “parent 2”.

Meanwhile, popular support for the legislation is waning. While a majority still favour gay marriage, a recent IFOP poll showed that less than half of the French support gay adoption, down from more than half in previous surveys.

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