French Leader Offends Gays as He Attempts to Placate the Political Right

In politics it’s a lot safer to stay neutral than take a polarizing stance. It’s understandable that politicians fear offending their voters given how difficult it is to get elected, but if this year has taught us anything it’s that leaders with progressive polarizing stances on social issues can still garner their people’s support. When it comes to gay marriage and pandering, French President François Hollande needs to take a cue from Obama instead of Romney.

On Tuesday, Hollande spoke to a national assembly of mayors. Tensions have been mounting among them as Hollande has announced the continuing plans for “marriage for everyone.” Over seventeen thousand mayors and deputies have vowed to abstain from performing same-sex marriage ceremonies. During the assembly, Hollande decided to address the issue of gay marriage once more, but instead of simply telling the gathering that his government would continue to give its full support to the gay marriage bill, he told the mayors that he was going to acknowledge their rights.

The law applies to everyone in France. But it must be applied with respect to freedom of conscience. Mayors are currently able to delegate their responsibilities to deputies, but for same-sex marriages it is possible that we could expand their options for delegation.

Under France’s motto of liberté, égalité and fraternité (freedom, equality, brotherhood), it looks like “freedom of conscience” might be at odds with “marriage for everyone.” For a law that intends to put all citizens on an equal footing, how fair will it be when officials can opt out of providing said equality? Unlike other countries where the civil/legal part of the ceremony can still be tied to religious rites, marriage in France in has long been a strictly civil ceremony. If you then wish to be ferried to your religious institution of choice, that is entirely up to you. As it currently stands, mayors can delegate marriage duties to their deputies when they are unfit to perform. However, with Hollande’s unfortunate turn of phrase, it sounds like public servants would be granted the freedom to discriminate against their fellow citizens based on their sexuality. Giving more weight to an official’s personal values than the public he or she serves does not tie in with the principle of a public service that should be granted regardless of an official’s personal convictions.

Via the Getty Images

Conservative anti-gay groups latched onto Hollande’s speech as a sign that he’s coming around. Spokesperson Alain Escada of the Civitas Association, the organizers for this weekend’s protests, said the comment “appears to be Hollande’s first step backwards on this issue [and] proves that protests against gay marriage in France are starting to bear fruit.”

Groups fighting for gay rights saw the speech as a sign that Hollande might start backtracking on his platform promises. Inter-LGBT, the country’s main LGBT lobbying body, released a press statement saying Hollande’s words “at best, can be termed a clumsy act and at worse, treachery.” They then stated they would refuse to work with his Socialist party until he had met with them and explained himself. Homosexualités et Socialisme, a group working to raise awareness of LGBT issues from within the Socialist party for released a statement entitled, “Honour all rights, yes, including ours!”

Opposing political parties condemned his actions. The Communist Party called the speech a terrible reaction to the rallying cries of right wing protesters. The leaders of Left Party chastized him for his people pleasing-ways. “This statement is seen as a humiliation for millions of citizens of our country. It does not reflect a reluctance but only a profound misunderstanding of the aspiration of French society to equality.”

Even if I weren’t gay, I wouldn’t be able to raise this “child” to be an upstanding citizen. Via the Associated Press

In a heartening move that may speak louder than his unfortunate words, Hollande met with Inter-LGBT’s Nicolas Gougain and Mathieu Nocent within a day of their press release. Hollande said his use of “freedom of conscience” was regretful and said he would stop using it in future conversations regarding same-sex marriage. He reiterated his commitment to passing the same-sex marriage legislation in its current form and vowed that the government would support any favourable amendments, including those covering children adoption. He made it clear that as officers of the state, all mayors will have to abide by the law in granting same-sex marriages.

Although Hollande has reaffirmed his commitment to marriage equality, it’s cold comfort when the legislation is still in limbo. By implying that someone else’s #LibertéDeConscience could outshine their own civil rights, it’s a stark reminder to gays that they’re still second class citizens. The queer French bear the scars of Hollande’s words and the damage won’t be easily undone. With the draft bill’s debate at the National Assembly still months away and the conservative movement putting on a louder, flashier show, any further stalls make the end goal of gay marriage seem that much more unattainable.

Inter-LGBT has been reassured that Hollande and his party are still pushing for égalité and fraternité for its same-sex citizens so the group is underscoring the importance of their rallies. Until the law passes, they implore gay marriage supporters to take to the streets and make their message known. For the past few months, gay groups have stayed relatively silent while they’ve been harassed, insulted and ridiculed by their aggressors, but they can no longer take that stance.

Inter-LGBT, HES and other queer groups want same-sex supporters throughout France to put a face to their cause via kiss-ins, manifestations and counter-demonstrations. Although some demos had been planned as a way to combat the hate rhetoric, yesterday Gougain pointed out that actions to support LGBT rights are meant to remind us that the “marriage for all” is intended to bring people together, not separate them.

On December 16th Inter-LGBT will host a national event to to rival the previous anti-gay demonstrations.  Even though they may not have grown men dressed as adult babies or interpretive silver spandex bird dances (although you never know), the movement wants to show Hollande and the Socialist Party in government just who’s behind them when they’re supporting marriage for all.

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  1. When I watched the speech I was so shocked (and I swore at my tv). If we decide that marriage is an equal right and that mayors have a right of conscience, what if a mayor decides he doesn’t want to officiate a wedding for an interracial couple? Can a gay mayor decide s/he doesn’t want to officiate weddings for straight people? Mayors serve the state. If they don’t like their duties as mayors, they can resign.

    Anyway, the protesters are talked about constantly, but they’re just a vocal minority. I’m going to cling to the numbers that say around 60% of the French population supports gay marriage.

      • Thanks! I can’t take all the credit since I had a few people helping me. Including a cute translator.

        • Oooh; do tell!
          I’m actually a French translator as well, so if any AS writer needs help with anything, I’m there (and it’s my actual job)!

  2. A kiss- in will only scare the H*#l out of conservatives, forcing them to dig in their heels deeper. An honest, truthful declaration, by Gay couples, their goals, relationsip with family, and who they are at heart, will weigh out over a billion kisses. Honestly, straight people kissing, grosses me out, so I can imagine what they think of same sex kissing.

  3. oh hollande, shame on you! i attended last sunday’s protest at place St Michel against the people who are against marriage equality. it was a little disappointing to see just how few we were and just HOW MANY *they* were on saturday. i had the great pleasure –not– of witnessing the entirety of their protest, since i luckily –not– live in a street they passed by. seriously, the entire march took more than AN HOUR to pass by my window. at one point i was just so shocked with the huuuuuge amount of people who were there that i thought: omg, this is not possible, they must be making turns around my block and THAT’S WHY this shit is taking so long to be over.


    they were really thousands and thousands and thousands of people. i never thought france was the home to that many homophobes. and the most annoying part is that Civitas auto-declares their cause to be actually –GUESS WHAT– “anti-homophobia”. sure, like in “i’m not homophobic, i just think that gay people are not as good as straight people and do not deserve a family or children or the same rights as the rest of the population”. makes total sense. not.

    i just hope we can answer them back at the same level next december 16th. allez!!!!!

  4. I think this is foolish. If some mayors do not want to perform same sex marriages and giving them an escape clause makes it easier to pass marriage equality, then opposing that is letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, which always a bad strategy. Getting marriage equity is the prize. All this would be is a small consolation prize to the losing side. Moreover, I would never want someone who hates me officiating over my marriage. If the mayor only marries me because he is required by law, then I am worse off. I would be better off to know that the mayor chose to marry me and if the first official does not want to perform it I can find one who will do it by choice and not by obligation.

    • haha i get your point. but –personally– i couldn’t care LESS for what a public office holder thinks of me. of course it would be great if he really chose to marry gay people, i guess that would send out some good vibes and all, but if he doesn’t really like the idea of gay marriage, too bad for him.

      isn’t that the whole point of having LAWS? btw, all the acts performed by the executive power ARE determined by law. *everything* they do is done –sorry for the redundancy– because the law requires so. this is one of the main principles of public administration, specially in civil law systems, and also an idea that’s very, very strong here in france — heritage of the revolution and etc. when it comes to the citizens, their freedom is guaranteed when we say that nobody can be obliged to do something or prevented from doing something if there isn’t a law saying so. but when it comes to the executive brench of the state, our freedom is guaranteed by the “principe de légalité”, that says that the public administration can only act and put restrictions and regulate people’s lives when the law says so — and in the strict limits and conditions set by the law.

      and seriously, what’s the point of having a LAW if you can *CHOOSE* not to follow it? come on. this wouldn’t be a law, this is a PIECE OF ADVICE hollande would be giving to mayors. law is ment to be mandatory for everybody, that’s why we call it law, no? and that’s why it is such a big deal that this clause is not there. i cannot see how we could reach marriage equality like that. mayors shouldn’t decide over people’s rights, or regulate them, or put them to practice as they wish. it is the legislative power that’s supposed to say how it’s done. it shouldn’t even CROSS MAYORS’ MINDS whether they will follow or not a law — it is their DUTY to do so!

      also, i’m not 100% sure about this, but i don’t think you can choose whatever mairie you want to perform your marriage… the spacial competences of each mairie are determined by law. so usually if you live under the “territory” of a certain mairie, you cannot go to another mairie to get married, no? those things are usually decided on the basis of your domicile. if you want to go to another mairie, you’d probably have to move out and find a place to live under the competence of that specific mairie you chose — or forge a proof that you live there, like a fake electricity bill, but then your marriage would have a vice and could be righteously “undone” by the administration or by a judge (and also to present fake proofs is probably a crime).

      come on, hollande! take that clause off the law :(((((((((

  5. I was pretty confused by the first picture for like .001 seconds… gazeta polska is a right wing polish newspaper and those ladies are covered in polish flags holding Mary statues, yet holding french signs. Then I became un-confused because they are polish right-wing ladies clutching Mary statues. Oh Poland and your 87% Catholic population, wherever you migrate.

  6. *sigh*
    Such a shame, as a frequent visitor to France I must say the scale of the anti-gay reaction to this has really surprised me.

  7. At first, I thought, okay the right-wing people akka conservative are going to march against equality, then seeing the number of left-wing deputies against same-sex marriage baffled me. For vote-gain they were all : We agree with our leader and his plans. Now that their majority is acquired, divided they are. Shame that they are not respecting their party and their promises to the population, knowing that the majority supports same-sex marriage.
    Living in a very gay-friendly city in France, I think that the population who voted for the left-wing was convinced mainly by this promise. Hollande back-tracking means he isn’t courageous enough as a leader to impose his law.

  8. Hi from Paris,
    Happy to see that news from France go around the world through you.
    We’ll be there on the 16th of december!!

  9. Understandable that with the older/mink coat/7eme arrt. french generation, one would expect there to be opposition to Hollande’s promise of marriage equality for all. But it seems to me that a majority of the younger population is all for gay marriage…and we are going to be the generation of tomorrow… Interesting to see how he’ll combat this duality.

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