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.
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!)
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
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 Paris
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
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.
The words from the Senate floor will reach far beyond l’Hexagone. When 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.
Malaika, a 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.
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.
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 reality! Conservatives 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