France Removes “Mère” and “Père” From French Forms For Gay Families, Which Is Magnifique

France is removing the words “mother” and “father” from official French forms and replacing those words with the gender neutral “parents.” And bully to France, I say! While the change in language may seem like a small thing, it’s indicative of something quite a bit larger brewing en France.

The first thing to understand about French as a language: just about everything has a gender. A table is female. A book is male. So I am completement choquée (completely shocked) that they’re making a push for gender neutrality in this instance, because language. But perhaps I shouldn’t be. After all, it’s not a change to language itself. That’s much more difficult to alter, as any change to the French language needs to go through the Académie Française, which is basically a group of people literally called les immortels (the immortals) who are the official authority on the French language. That’s how seriously the French take their French. This is just a change on forms, on legal documents and French legal code, much like the removal of Mademoiselle from government documents. Still, because much of the language is gendered, it’s a pretty big deal. Changing to a gender neutral term is a real signifier of where the country is politically. Same-sex families would now be able to fill out forms in a way that accurately represents their family, whatever gender the parents may be.

François Hollande via itv.com+

The change is coming about as part of a larger movement to legalize gay marriage. Unlike the United States, France has had national access to civil unions, called pacte civil de solidarité and commonly called PACS. Much like civil unions, PACS provides some of the same legal benefits as marriage, but not all, and can be drawn up between any two people of any gender as a contract to share life and property. People who have engaged in this practice are no longer viewed as single, but as pacsée, which as you could probably tell is not the same word as mariée (married.) And while it’s a damn sight better than what the U.S. has got, it’s still not marriage. Back in May, France elected a new President, François Hollande. He defeated incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy (sometimes called “Petit George”, in reference to his similarity to George W. Bush.) Part of his campaign promise? Legalize same-sex marriage and adoption. Like, marriage-marriage, not just PACS. The bill will be introduced this October and many are drawing links between this piece of legislation and the change on the form because once the draft is introduced and presumably passed, children may not have one of each anymore. They may just have parents. And in the end, isn’t that what we all have?

via Le Monde.

France is going through much the same discussion as the United States is: BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?! Le Monde, a French newspaper, recently conducted a survey (not to be confused with a study) they asked the children of gay parents how they felt. And then they wrote about it. And the sentiments of these French children (and adult-children) sound like a) American children and b) every structure of family’s children. For example, one little boy has two dads, who he describes as “one who says ‘yes’ more, and one who says ‘no’ more.” Some children worry about what happens to them if one of their moms gets sick or dies because they aren’t legally the child of the other, other wonder why the church has anything to say about it when the discussion surrounds civil marriage. And everyone’s answer has one theme running through it: we’re fine. Yes, it’s subjective, but sometimes numbers don’t stand up to experience.

As expected, the Catholic church is reacting poorly both to the change on the forms and to the possible legalization of same-sex marriage. In summary, France hurt their feefees. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the highest ranking Catholic cleric in France, lost his shit on a Christian radio show, claiming that that same-sex marriage would lead to polygamy and incest, and also the fall of society. Pope Benedict XVI invited 30 French bishops to Italy to urge them to fight against marriage equality. But as wondered previously, what role does the Church have in any civil marriage? And if you need any ammunition against this argument of “because the Bible says so” in any country, you may want to check out Fish Out of Water or this week’s Savage Love podcast.

For those who are beginning to believe in the forthcoming social apocalypse caused by equality for the French queermos, it’s worth pointing out that Paris has an openly gay mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, and that God hasn’t yet smote Paris. And he’s a mayor who cannot wait to begin performing same-sex marriages in his city and has some major issues with Cardinal Barbarin’s sentiments. 

“‘It is very shocking and even surprising coming from him, because he is someone I consider a wise man, he said [of Cardinal Barbarin]. ‘I don’t know what came over him, he flipped his lid a little bit and what he said was downright ugly.'”

It may seem like two simple words. Mother. Father. It’s such a small thing, changing the terms in French civil code to something gender neutral. Most would say that it’s not much of a to-do. But look at the impact just this action can have. Although the Catholic Church has it’s knickers in a twist, Mayor Delanoe doesn’t seem concerned one bit. The kerfuffle and the act itself signify a time of great political change for France, from it’s previously conservative and traditional outlook to something much more progressive. So while yes, it’s just a word, these words mean that it’s a great time to be queer in France.

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Freelance writer and fiction author, Geekery Editor for Autostraddle.com and Fiction Editor for qu.ee/r Magazine. Keep up with her at her website.

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19 Comments

  1. Thumb up 4

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    As a French-American reader who lives in France, this is just…huge.

    Especially since our marriage and adoption equality bill continues to specifically forbid lesbians from getting access to fertility clinics (several members of the National Assembly have promised to amend the bill to allow us to gain access to reproductive technologies once it’s introduced, but since the amendment won’t be supported by the government, there’s little chance that such an amendment will pass).

    The excuse these assholes give boils down to the idea that while a same-sex couple might do a good job of raising an preexisting, poor suffering orphan – with heterosexual birth parents and all – actually procreating is a Bad Thing because then the poor child will become hopelessly confused about how human biology works and think that two mommies can pffffft create a baby with their lesbian magic wands or sparkly dildos.

    So yeah… parents, rather than mothers and fathers, means that we’re (I hope!) on the right track to overturning this particular instance of discrimination.

  2. Thumb up 3

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    This is a huge deal. Huge. Until the 1970s, we had the “chef de famille”, which was the dad, who had familial authority. Sharing this authority between the two parents started with changing the language in “autorité parentale”. Language is a big deal. Also, the Académie Française sucks and language should change faster and shouldn’t be controlled by 70+ year old men.

    I’m so happy this is happening. My cousin and her partner (they are PACSed) had a baby boy in january and mean tongues in my family were saying “what if they have two babies and they separate? they might take their own (biological) baby and leave”. WTF.

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      I hate how the majority of people assume that suddenly the rules of parenting magically change when you have two same-gendered parents. A separation is a separation, and it will have the same impact on the children, regardless of whether it’s Mom and Dad splitting or Mom and Mommy splitting.

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    As excited as I am… I’m still a little bemused by the reaction in the American media (and by “American media” I mean one article in Slate and articles such as this one in what we might call the gay press). Overall the reaction has been very, very positive. In France, LGBT organisations more like WTF you SUCK specifically because of the continued exclusion of lesbians from fertility treatments. I just don’t think there’s a mood of victory here right now, even though we’re moving forward, there’s still a sense that the government is just not going far enough. So we feel discouraged, or embattled. Bitter, at any rate. Is this because we like to complain too much?

  4. Thumb up 6

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    A whole article on my country on AS! Yay!

    I’m not really worried about the shitty “arguments” like polygamy and incest and pedophilia and WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN holding any weight against equality bills or in the public opinion. Bigots said the exact same things 13 years ago when the PACS was discussed and introduced, it didn’t work then and it’ll work even less now.

    Also, it wasn’t mentioned by Ali but “mother” and “father” aren’t the only words who will disappear from official documents – “husband” and “wife” will also both be replaced by the gender-neutral “spouse” :) I’ve always find it a little weird and most probably sexist that the French word for “wife” is actually “woman” (femme) so I’m doubly glad about this one too.

    I also agree with F. that the general feeling around it here isn’t very positive, because the battle isn’t over and there’s still much to change (i.e. that law about fertility treatments), and while it’s definitely true that it looks like we missed a great opportunity on that point, I think we should also learn to acknowledge small victories and take it one step at a time. It’s frustrating and infuriating, yes, but if it is the only way to get anything done then so be it.
    French people do like to complain a LOT, but as a people we’re also notoriously slow on accepting change and prone to cling to the past, and that won’t change overnight.

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      “I’ve always find it a little weird and most probably sexist that the French word for ‘wife’ is actually “woman” (femme) so I’m doubly glad about this one too.”

      And that “daughter” and “girl” are the same (“fille”) while “son” and “boy” are not (“fils” and “garçon”). To me, the implication feels like you’re either someone’s daughter or someone’s wife, and the latter makes you an adult. Ugh is right!

      The “woman and wife are the same word” seems to be the case in a lot of European languages, but there are some where that is also true for “husband” and “man,” such as in German – “die Frau” means both wife and woman, but “der Mann” also means both man and husband. So while it still has some weird implications, at least they’re not really sexist.

      (I’m not a native speaker of either language so if anyone is and I’m wrong, feel free to correct me)

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      Aha! More French AS fans! I knew I couldn’t be the only one! I agree that replacing husband and wife with spouse is a good thing, except of course it’s not really gender-neutral in French, because in our language, gender-neutral doesn’t exist. I do think “époux” is an improvement, all-in-all, but in our language, gender-neutral=masculine, and while it is pointless and impossible to revolt against this, I do think it’s unfortunate. English-speakers are lucky in this respect!

      (Gay websites will often try to remedy this situation by writing the word for spouse as “époux-se”, and thereby including both the masculine and feminine endings. I find this….unaesthetic. Fair! But sort of weird-looking. It doesn’t flow, it doesn’t look like “real French”. So there really is no winning).

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    Wow, I’m french and didn’t know about this.
    Sadly, we still have to fill forms with the “Mademoiselle” choice, probably because these are old forms that they need to use. Most recently was with the CNED forms and that of my local library. It confuses me even more because I’m scared that the CNED’ll send me back the damn forms as I’m not married and too young for “Madame”. I wish there was a Mx here, too, or none of these things.

  6. Thumb up 0

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    I’m French too !
    But there is something wrong in this article : everything should be written in future or conditional. The replacement of “mère” and “père” by “parents” and of “mari” and “femme” by “époux” will be effective ONLY if this “projet de loi” is finally voted ! It is not 100% sure at all and this won’t be done before 2013. The link of the “avant projet” is in this article : http://www.lavie.fr/dossiers/homosexualite/exclusif-le-texte-de-l-avant-projet-de-loi-sur-le-mariage-pour-tous-21-09-2012-31068_229.php

    Apart from this mistake, I sure can’t wait for the law to pass. But it is clear that the discussion at the Assembly will be hard and I am not sure if all the propositions will be accepted. Finally, I hope that gays will be able to get married but also to adopt and to benefit from all the rights that come from marriage for heterosexual (inheritence, parenthood, divorce, tax rights etc).

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      Yeah, it may be introduced to his cabinet, as the Telegraph article says, in October, but all the statements the gov’t has made seem to say a vote will be sometime in the first part of 2013.

      And you’re right that it’s definitely not a done deal. But at the same time, the influence of the Catholic church in France isn’t what most Americans might imagine it to be (or at least what I would’ve thought back before I’d ever lived here).

  7. Thumb up 0

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    What a load of liberal tripe.
    Marriage has always been the sacred union between a man and a woman around which the family has evolved, namely that of a “mother” and “father” and their biological children.
    The very idea of marriage equality is ridiculous when marriage has always been the concept mentioned above.It’s like saying men should have equality during pregnancy, it’s just absurd.

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