The France of popular imagination is a place where the introduction gay marriage would be accepted without protest. The massive and unexpected opposition demonstrates otherwise
Back in France for an early summer holiday, the first thing to strike me is the weather. On the radio this morning they claimed that France has had its coldest May in 30 years. Northern Italy is boasting its coldest spring in 200 years. The problem is I am presently in Calvi in Corsica, a “dedicated” beach resort. It is windy, freezing, with fresh snow on the summits of the mountains overlooking magnificent Calvi Bay and the luxury yachts moored at the marina.
It seems that with the financial crisis, high unemployment, and the catastrophic management of Europe by EU bureaucrats with their passive politicians, the only thing going at the moment is that the sun is approaching the solstice with hope of warmer weather. Even for French Mothers Day, Sunday, 26 May, the flowers traditionally offered to mothers have increased in price due to the bad weather; the traditional peony has gone from 27 euro for 20 up to 32 euros for only 15.
The papers and media are full of the Mother’s Day protest against the Taubira law, the Same Sex Marriage Act, passed on the May 18 by Socialist government of President Francois Hollande. Between 150,000 and a million protesters, depending on who you believe, turned up as a last fling to protest against this much resented new law. To underline their determination, the protest itself is calculated to cost over $A one million, including the cost of between 600 and 800 buses and 11 special trains to bring the tens of thousands from all over France, the sound equipment, giant screens and podiums. Even the local parish priest in Calvi was passionately forthcoming concerning the law in his sermon. He forcefully alluded to the fact that the congregation before him were all fruit of passion; that “passion fruit” that can only come from a heterosexual union.
Capitalising on a general disenchantment with the Hollande socialist government, Ludovine de La Rochere, president of the protest committee sees in Hollande’s persistence “an abuse of power of an executive in the hands of an ultra-minoritarian lobby.” Young students hail the protest as a “May 1968 in reverse”. They want to defend the family and lost social values. “It is a deeply felt movement which totally questions the liberal/libertarian drift since May ’68”.
Both the Left and the government thought the protest would fade away after the law had passed, but this is not happening. The protesters, at the very least, want to make the progressives think. Many have emphasized that the protest is not a homophobic push as many of the Left so easily brand it: they simply want to separate the idea of same-sex civil union from the idea of marriage. Indeed, Frigide Barjot, one of the leading lights of the movement, will fight for “the consitutionalisation of republican marriage as the union of a man and a woman, where there is issue”, and for the introduction of civil union contracts but without the possibility of adoption, as an alternative to the Taubira law.
It would seem that people are reacting to their understanding of this sacred, biological union with its link to ‘issue’, the biological union that gives marriage its special place. Any substitute, however painfully denied, is a substitute, and can never replace the deep symbolic meaning of marriage and heterosexual union. It seems, viewed from France that a lot of people really do and are prepared to fight.
What a contrast to the passive resistance, indifference or capitulation in Australia for fear of being abused or accused of homophobia.
Andrew McIntyre blogs at andrewmcintyre.org