France Wins A Thing: Gay Marriage for All for Real!

Last night France’s Senate voted in gay marriage 179 to 157! After ten hours of deliberations and arguments, they approved Section 1 which redefines marriage as a union between “two individuals of different sex or of the same sex.” Now needing little more than a rubber stamp when Senate approves the entire Mariage pour Tous bill, France is well on its way to claim the twelfth spot in the exclusive club of Countries That Respect Their Citizens.

The official Yay We’re Gay date has yet to be announced, but it’s likely queer couples can line up for cheesy Eiffel Tower proposals this summer. In the meantime, France is working to make society match its soon-to-be laws. During the debate Larousse agreed to redefine marriage for their 2014 edition and l’Académie française indicated that they’ll investigate evolving their definition. Even though actions by these two organizations speak volumes, it’s truly the queer citizens that achieved the greatest change. They burdened the brunt of this battle, from marching in the streets to attempting to show tolerance to their anti-gay fellow countrymen. Now with one late meeting on a Tuesday night, their trials and tribulations are about to be worth it.

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Les Straddlers are great at protesting! Front Lucie, Marie, Tara, Amy and Marie-France. Middle: Laetitia, Ashley and Marianne. Back: Hannah, Nataly and Hannah

Some thoughts from those who are in the midst of the issue in France:

Camille, a born and raised French citizen working in Paris. (Proudly voted for Hollande!)Cam

These past months have also been a wild parade of cluelessness, obscurantism and bigotry from family, colleagues, elected representatives of the State and complete strangers. It was a reality check. After the violent PaCS debate of 1999 (Pacte Civil de Solidarité, civil unions including same-sex couples), France mostly stayed in stasis: for a while, very little was said in the public space about homosexuality, family, equality and gender.

François Hollande put marriage equality on the agenda when he got elected. The government seemed hesitant to actually go for it, but when they did, it felt like all hell broke loose. It is healthy, as a nation, as a society, as a democracy, to have this conversation about how we see ourselves and what we want for the future.  Even when it turns into a screaming match. I heard a lot of people saying that they were tired of this issue, especially among the in between (never really against or for this bill). I think it made them uncomfortable, all of these serious thoughts about Big Social Issues.

This country, more often than not, seems to be running on habit, inertia and probably a lot of duct tape. So I am actually glad the debates took so long, were so strident and that so many got involved. All those hot button issues where the Right has been dominating the debate — citizenship, multiculturalism and even morality — I want them to be put wide open on the public forum, discussed and argued! All the pyrotechnics! We could use some ambition!

Marianne, living in France

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Marianne with a poster by Camille

I can’t believe we’re nearly there; we’ll soon be able to get married here in our own country, and maybe (probably?) adopt! Of course, it hasn’t been a painless process. In the past few months, I’ve heard every possible cliché about our identities, every possible variation of “this just isn’t right,” based on every possible flawed justification — from the biological to the religious. I’ve heard it on the street, I’ve heard it from acquaintances and I’ve heard it on TV during the Assemblée Nationale debates. Before all this, I hadn’t realized how prevalent this way of thinking still was.

I guess I’d rather know what people think than live in blissful ignorance, but it was exhausting. And just when we thought we had heard it all, this happened. And then this. We may be getting some of the rights, but the fight is far from over.

Madeline, living in ParisMadeline

Sometimes I think we unwittingly made a Faustian bargain with the anti-gay forces when the PaCS passed. We wouldn’t ask for anything else, they’d leave us alone and the hardline conservatives didn’t preach about us as a menace to the traditional family. Many anti-gay conservatives didn’t truly care who we fucked, so long as the door to our bedrooms was kept firmly shut.

Then President François Hollande and his brave and eloquent Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira opened up the Pandora’s box we thought was nailed shut and all the hatred lurking beneath the surface of our polite public dialogue burst forth. I wasn’t used to hearing that kind of poison here and expected more indifference than hatred. And then 300,000 people marched below my window, and down the street where I live, against my civil rights! And again last month.

Many of my friends and I realized we’d never fully grasped the extent of anti-gay hatred in France. For so long it had remained muffled – and we had chosen not to go looking for it. And we never realized how much of that hatred was focused on opposition to gay people having children. Although adoption will soon be possible, lesbian couples’ right to fertility treatments – including artificial insemination – remains illegal, and given the tone of the debates, is likely to remain so for the near future. Even for many on the left, “natural” methods of procreation must not be toyed with. With François Hollande’s popularity is falling, and I just can’t see him spending any more political capital on this issue.

There’s been a frightening increase in the number of anti-gay hate crimes and homophobic incidents. Supporters of the bill have received death threats, one senator had her car vandalized, and the bill’s main sponsor had to cancel speaking engagements because of security issues. The number of people supporting marriage equality, adoption equality, and artificial insemination for lesbian or single women has markedly decreased since the bill was first introduced in the fall. But at least now we know where we really are as a culture, what we are up against and how far we still have to go.

Nataly, living in France

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I remember the day we sat around at home waiting for news announcing the number of people that were marching all over our oh-so-open idolized city to deny us our basic human rights. Shuttles and trains from all over the country, busses full of people coming to protest AGAINST equality. “Let’s all get together and spend the weekend in Paris protesting not to fight for equality or to acquire rights, but so that other people don’t get any.” It felt heinous. It meant so many people are still prejudiced, still ignorant and evil-intentioned.

We were almost positive the leftist majority was going to make sure the bill passes. But the thought of all these people still considering us second class citizens who should be kept at arm’s length, at the margin of society, outside of the family, was awful and made me want to cry, because it made me realize this was basically just a formality. I’m happy the bill passed because after all we need a formality, this formality, I just wish the persecution and intimidation would stop so we can have a decent society in which we feel safe to enjoy these rights.

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Ashley, Hannah and Marie

The words from the Senate floor will reach far beyond l’HexagoneWhen marriage equality is approved, it isn’t just making it easier for citizen that dream of being Mme and Mme. It’s also paving the way for all queers on a global scale. If non-residents aren’t subjected to homophobic hatred, dual citizens, ex-pats and travelers alike can return, feeling comfortable and wanted within France’s borders.

Malaikaa former French exchange student living in Edmonton.

Even though it has been two years since I did an exchange term in France, I still think about it all the time. I miss the one Euro wine, the pain-au-chocolat, the million different kinds of cheese, the baguettes I bought fresh and still warm from the bakeries that lined every street, the croissants that were a perfect balance of butter and crust, the strong Belgian beer. But most of all, I miss all the people who introduced me to this food, the French friends I got to eat it with while they helped me with my grammar homework. The first few weeks of translation class, there was a bet among the French queer students on whether I was gay or not; and once I got past the awkwardness of being bet on, and the awkwardness of speaking French all the time, we all became friends and spent lots of time laying around in the park talking, eating and napping. When I heard that same-sex marriage is now a thing in France, I thought of my little French queer gang I wished I’d been able to spend more time with. I’m so happy they can get married if they want to, and hey, I’m happy for myself too. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll have a great, big, gay French wedding with baguettes, pain-au-chocolat, croissants and wine!

Justine. A French student with dual citizenship, living in Montréal.

I voted for Hollande because he talked about gay rights; because he was going to allow Mariage pour Tous, adoption, and more. I have never felt more French than the day he was elected; I could finally get married in my country of birth.

Being Canadian as well made it extremely hard for me to have the freedom to be whoever I wanted to be here in Canada, whereas in France, the president still did not feel like gay rights were about citizen rights. I’ve been deceived more than once this past year about how the French wider population was reacting to this. Their slogans did not make sense and was based on pure homophobia. No statistics were added to any of their messages and it was just bothering me that these people could stop the movement from the majority of people that had voted for these citizen rights in electing Holland.

I am just happy that everything turned out alright and that France is slowly moving towards being a gay-friendly country.

Tara, a year abroad student from the University of Sheffield.

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Tara and Marie-France

I’m thrilled that the bill has been passed. Finally some legislation to reflect a progression in attitudes! We have to remember that the fight is far from over though; a marriage equality bill being passed doesn’t mean we’re equal. The hatred and homophobia that remain prevalent and oppressive forces just serve to prove that, and we still have a long way to go.

Anna, a Montrealer with dual citizenship, splitting her time between Canada and France.

When the debate first started, it was a stark reminder that I am still unequal; that the lovely country wedding my brother had had in my parents’ village was something I would be denied. So yesterday my first feeling was one of relief: relief that my citizenship is not second rate anymore, relief for my cousin and his boyfriend who after 15 years are still head over heels in love, and relief that this country I am so proud of belonging to for so many reasons, I can be even prouder of still. Of course there is still a lot of work to be done, and still many other rights to be wronged, but I can’t help but feel elated that one step among many steps in the right direction has finally been taken.

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Laetitia, Marianne, Hannah and Tara

The typical French family will have a decidedly different portrait by the end of this. Although Senate has made it over its first hurdle, there are still plenty of measures to be addressed on the Mariage pour Tous bill.  Although IVF was already stricken from the final proposal, gay adoption is still a possibility a realityConservatives are sure to raise another stink, but if yesterday’s vote taught us anything, stamping your feet can only do so much.

“This law is going to extend to all families the protections guaranteed by the institution of marriage. Contrary to what those who vociferate against it say — fortunately they’re in the minority — this law is going to strengthen the institution of marriage.” — Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault

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Hailing from Vancouver, Kristen's still trying to figure out how to survive Montreal's Real Legitimate Canadian Winter. So far she's discovered that warm socks, giant toques and Tabby kittens all play a role in her survival. Her ultimate goal is to rank higher than KStew in the "Kristen + Autostraddle" Google Search competition.

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31 Comments

  1. Thumb up 1

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    “Gay marriage for All for Real! [...] This law is going to extend to all families the protections guaranteed by the institution of marriage.”

    [soapbox]

    Nope, not all. Trans people still have to choose between having a marriage and/or a family and not being outed by their legal gender marker all of their lives (with castration thrown in as an additional price).
    I should be happy about this and feel guilty that I don’t, but I’m still so bitter and sad and angry that not a SINGLE word was said about it in all those months – that not a single LGB”T” association dared to maybe gamble a little bit with the cis’ rights in order to honor their self-endorsed mission to fight for an even more oppressed minority and truely make “mariage pour tous” deserve its name, because it was *such* a perfect and rare occasion to do it.
    Instead they just keep paying lip service to us and throwing us under the bus for their sake. Yay cis gay marriage, for real, but fuck you Gay Inc. .

    [/soapbox]

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      “Trans people still have to choose between having a marriage and/or a family and not being outed by their legal gender marker all of their lives (with castration thrown in as an additional price).”

      I’m trans and I’m actually not quite getting your argument. Are you saying that the new marriage law makes the gender marker situation worse, or are you saying it just has no effect one way or the other?

      Sorry, but more and more I’m becoming exasperated with trans critiques of Gay, Inc. that just criticize without bothering to offer any positive alternative ideas.

      Also saying “trans people” followed by “(with castration thrown in as an additional price)” erases trans men and what’s at stake for them in these questions.

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      Actually, sorry to keep going but I keep coming back to this in my mind… I just realized that the use of the word “castration” at all here is really problematic. Because I think most trans women who have surgery would not be comfortable using that word to describe any aspect of bottom surgery, and in a deeper sense I worry that it more generally associates the presence of a vagina with the absence of a penis. That’s kinda sexist.

      I think I would say that “the law requires sterilization” instead. Also, from that perspective, I think it should be easier to find common ground with the present debate, because one should point out that just as a lesbian cis woman should have access to fertility support (artificial insemination, etc.), so trans people shouldn’t be required to become sterilized in order to have their gender acknowledged.

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      Actually, i don’t think this has anything to do with the gender marker law, which i think we can all agree needs to be changed; as it stands in France, the situation’s bad for trans women and worse for trans men.

      I have family in France who are directly affected by this change. In fact, my proverbial sister-in-law can now really be my sister-in-law. She, like me, is a trans woman. She, like me, isn’t getting much from Gay, Inc, but sometimes a rising tide lifts all boats.

      And when we stop legislating who can get married to people of what gender, yeah, it does have a benefit for trans rights, because a marriage that’s valid under law can’t be pulled apart by the law itself by splitting hairs over what’s a woman or what’s a man if that doesn’t matter in the first place. That is <> when even if the law can say i’m a man under law, it can’t change the status of my (theoretical) marriage regardless of the gender of my partner. I am part of that <> as we all are if we choose to embrace civil marriage.

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    I’ve written about this previously, but personally I lived in France for one year that was pretty damn miserable. While I was there I experienced transphobia and homophobia on nearly a daily basis, including workplace harassment that went on for months. Another occasion I went to pick up some document or other in a government office, and two women behind the counter (government employees!) began blatantly laughing at me right to my face. I remember seeing exactly *one* queer couple showing affection outside of the 3rd (kind of the queer area) in an entire year… and I remember seeing a gay guy that nearly got attacked by a group of angry men on a public bus one night.

    A lot of people in the States will say things like, “France is so progressive on social issues!” and I’m just like, “What f’g version of France are you even talking about?” On social/economic support and things like that France is pretty good (or at least it was before Sarkozy), but when it comes to racism, homophobia and transphobia it looked pretty ugly to me. Luckily, I did get a chance to go back to France last summer, and I guess since I’m further along in transition (finished, basically) it was a little better. But even then I had a couple guys come up to me on the street with things like “are you a man?” and that kind of shit. And I have to say, no one associates queer rights with Japan, but after half a year in Tokyo I’m far, far more comfortable here than I’ve ever been in Paris.

    Anyways, I’m really glad this happened, but from what I’ve seen and experienced there I think France has a long ways to go.

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      Disclaimer: I only visited Paris for a week, but in that week I observed the same.

      I was expecting Paris to be an extremely progressive and radical place. Instead I was bothered in public restrooms and stared and laughed at more than in the US. I am not trans but simply a woman who looks very masculine and is often perceived as a male. I was surprised that there wasn’t more diversity of appearance in such a huge city. I was also surprised by how bold a lot of French people were. In the US if someone mistakes me for a man they are usually embarrassed and apologetic, whereas I had French people laugh at me and call me names right to my face.

      That being said, I am excited for French progress on gay marriage and French societal progress in general, especially because I know so many intelligent and awesome people have been fighting for this for so long.

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      Yes, people keep disbelieving me when I tell them France is really transphobic, homophobic and racist / xenophobic, but the situation is pretty dire. I feel like without all the racist / xenophobic pretensions that we Europeans are inherently super-progressive (haha, the long history of totalitarian regimes on the continent proves this so well, doesn’t it?) and have the duty to protect human rights / teach them to non-Europeans, LGBT rights would be more or less non-existent in Europe.

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      It sucks that you had such a bad experience of France and Paris in particular but I’m not sure blanket statements are helpful.
      Like most countries in the world it always depends on the city you were in, the people you met,the areas you found yourself into. Saying France is homophobic and racist is way too simplistic. I think coming from the US, a lot of Americans have these huge expectations about Europe (as if it’s a country) and when the country in question fails to meet them and turns out to be a complex country with good sides and bad sides and not this idyllic place people imagined it would be, the reaction towards the bad stuff is very strong and disproportionate in my experience.

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        I said “but when it comes to racism, homophobia and transphobia it looked pretty ugly to me.” i.e. I am very openly acknowledging that it was my own subjective experience… although it does happen to agree with the subjective experiences of many others that I’ve talked to, including queers and trans people that were born and raised in France. And no, I’m not generalizing France to the whole of Europe, I’ve lived elsewhere in Europe and had quite different experiences; I’m commenting on my experiences in France in particular here.

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      I think the comment that it depends on where you are, like in the US, is very true.

      I’ve had a generally wonderful experience here. There’s a large, active gay population and I feel comfortable holding hands with my gf even when we aren’t around the gay bars. We even had a woman give us a big smile and a thumbs up once when she saw us holding hands.

      But this law has brought out into public all the people that are absolutely terrified of gay marriage and for all the people in the streets there are others who aren’t comfortable with it but aren’t ready to march about it either.

      Today the deputy to Nation Assembly for my area was woken up (along with his wife, children, and neighbors) at 6:30am by a crowd of young anti-gay marriage extremists blowing horns and whistles. They then moved on to gather at a conference in town where the women’s rights minister was supposed to speak. She cancelled but a feminist journalist who supports gay marriage was still planning to speak. After menacing her on-line, about 400 people showed up at the event, some getting inside and yelling and throwing stink bombs when she began to speak (on the future of Islam, not on gay marriage and the majority of the crowd did support her yelling for them to get out and staying for her debate). The activists then proceeded to block her train back to Paris, standing on the tracks and getting onto the train to set off more stink bombs. Escorted by riot police, she was met by more of the same arriving in Paris.

      Meanwhile, an anti-gay marriage activist was knifed in Paris, in what seems to be a robbery unrelated to his activism but he and others have fed the information to twitter to make their supporters believe otherwise (and highlighted the unfortunate response of a couple of asshole pro-gay rights tweets who were happy he was attacked). Basically throwing fuel on the flames.

      SO… yeah. The law will happen and that’s good. But it is true that France is not the liberal utopia we Americans might like to dream it to be. Though, damn are there some attractive homogays here. I’m partial to my gf, but it’s relevant to the interests of everyone here that a woman in my LGBT badminton club looks like Rachel Maddow, only French.

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      I dunno..I’m aware of the stereotype of the french being kind of rude,contrary. Maybe thats what it is. Its just that whole rebellious spirit thing. I guess there’re two sides to that.It really is pretty amazing how slow the U.S AND France have been in dealing with this issue. At this point its rather embarrassing.

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    It’s not done yet… We won’t be able to get married/to adopt before a couple of months, but it’s coming indeed.

    What this article doesn’t talk about is all the homophobia we’re facing right now in France. What these people say really makes me cry, they’re so wrong… It’s not the first time that a law is passed and doesn’t please everyone, it doesn’t mean that we’re in a dictatorship.
    http://www.lemonde.fr/politique/article/2013/04/12/quelques-milliers-d-opposants-au-mariage-pour-tous-manifestent-a-paris_3159204_823448.html
    http://www.rue89.com/2013/04/08/wilfred-olivier-agresses-a-paris-voici-visage-lhomophobie-241278

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      Its to be expected I suppose, like in the 60s when racial issues were being dealt with (in the US) and the national guard had to get involved.Sensible people are technically in the majority but the ‘minority’ is still significant and dare I say say a bit closer to ‘half’ than one would like to think.

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