The Catholic Thing
The French Debate on Gay Marriage Print E-mail
By Jean Duchesne   
Thursday, 29 November 2012

Much is being heard in France these days about gay marriage. Does this mean a genuine debate is developing? Not at all. Critics of the government’s bill on “marriage for all” put forward all kinds of excellent reasons to reject it, and no one replies.

Government ministers say they are happy to allow everyone to make their points. But the advocates of families with two daddies or two mommies simply don’t bother to argue back. They apparently believe that a self-evident right does not need to be justified. It ought to be acknowledged, they say, not discussed.

This is why no official or defender of the bill has stooped to comment on the elaborate case made against it by cardinals, bishops, imams, rabbis, and also non-religious individuals and organizations. The media generally find such rational analysis too sophisticated. It cannot be reduced to bold headlines. The general public would get bored.

By contrast, the notion that anyone should be able to marry anyone else is based on simplistic ideals that any honorable person allegedly will grasp and adopt at once. Shying away from actual dialogue first rests on the principle that any form of discrimination is bad. Denying gays and lesbians access to marriage if they feel like it then amounts to refusing to consider them as human beings. It is therefore morally unacceptable, a form of “homophobia,” which has been declared a hideous crime that toddlers are now warned against in kindergarten.

It is also argued that several American states and some European countries have already opened marriage to gays and lesbians, and that France must catch up in order remain among the world’s most advanced countries. (We are, of course, supposed to be the exemplary standard bearer of equality and justice.)

Another excuse for declining to deal seriously with objections is that gay marriage was part of candidate François Hollande’s platform. Since he was elected president, the conclusion is that a majority approved this idea, and that it is undemocratic to challenge it now.

Opponents (and especially Catholics) are now beginning to stage mass demonstrations. Because rational debates have proved impossible, yet another form of indirect rebuff is taking shape. Mass popular political pressure is branded as unnatural, because marching down boulevards chanting slogans belongs to progressives and defenders of the oppressed, not conservatives and reactionaries.

All this is highly paradoxical indeed. It would be rather unusual for a leftist government to have to yield to protesters peacefully invading the streets. There has been a precedent, though. In 1984, after a million people demonstrated in Paris, another socialist president whose first name was François (Mitterand) was forced to fire his prime minister and entire cabinet and to give up his party’s plan to nationalize all private schools, most of which are Catholic.

Hollande is by no means sure to do better than Mitterrand. His promise to legalize “mercy killing” has already been postponed – the official explanation is that he wants to give a panel of experts time to investigate the matter in depth and to write a comprehensive scientific report whose conclusions no one will dare disagree with.

The supporters of euthanasia are obviously more patient than the champions of gay marriage. The latter’s blind determination is another paradox. At a time when marriage is no longer very popular, with boys and girls marrying later or not at all, even if they have children, and divorced more often, it is ironic to see the avant-garde claiming the right to take advantage of such an old-fashioned institution.

There’s more: no unanimity exists on the left, and even among gay and lesbian groups. Their traditional bisexual and transsexual allies obviously have different priorities, so the GLBT lobby is falling apart. Meanwhile the socialist rank and file, who have higher priorities on their agenda, are perplexed and divided. And to be honest, a few voices in favor of gay rights have also made themselves heard in the Gaullist opposition party.

It appears that a small “enlightened” elite have persuaded themselves (and a handful of politicians who would be ashamed of being left behind) that same-sex unions are the inevitable next step in the modernization of social life and the growth of civil liberties, a logical continuation of universal suffrage, the abolition of slavery, the repudiation of racism and sexism, divorce, and birth control.

Because it is rooted in the illusory faith in “Progress,” this belief is impervious to reasoned objections and resorts to caricatures and contradictory arguments to impose itself without ever deigning to disclose its real motivations or to examine likely consequences.

In the present case, the fear of not being “with it” is being used to drive home the notion that homosexuality is “normal.” The ultimate, unspeakable goal is to weaken instinctive repugnance, especially among teenagers. The prospect of the next steps is not only sickening, but downright frightening. The French poet Paul Valéry once noted that civilizations can die. They can also commit suicide.

The question now is how long people will tolerate being manipulated and treated like morons by madmen claiming to be philanthropists. It is not true that François Hollande won the last presidential election because he promised to legalize same-sex unions. The French merely (and narrowly) rejected the incumbent. Equality does not mean that males and females are interchangeable. Hope and faith that the future can be better cannot consist in depriving the word “marriage” of its significance, but in betting on reason.

French Church leaders have done their duty by pointing out the predictably disastrous effects of the legalization of gay marriage. It is up to the people now to finish the job by making it clear on the political stage that this is definitely not the kind of “advance” that France or the world need. 

Jean Duchesne, a new contributor to The Catholic Thing, is a writer and emeritus professor of English at Condorcet College in Paris. He has served as personal adviser to the archbishops of Paris since 1981 and is now secretary general of the French Catholic Academy and vice-president of the French bishops’ Faith and Culture Observatory.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.


Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (22)Add Comment
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, November 29, 2012
It is worth noting that the Pécresse Commission in 2006 and the Court of Cassation and the Constitutional Council in the Bègles case all affirmed the traditional understanding of marriage.

The Civil Code contains no definition of marriage, but Article 312 “The child conceived or born in marriage has the husband for father” has been treated as a functional definition by jurists, including the three most authoritative commentators on the Civil Code, Demolombe (1804–1887), Guillouard (1845-1925) and Gaudemet (1908-2001), long before the question of same-sex marriage was agitated.

In 1998, a colloquium of 154 Professors of Civil Law, including Philippe Malaurie, Alain Sériaux, and Catherine Labrusse-Riou had unanimously endorsed this interpretation of the Civil Code. This led to the introduction of civil unions (PACS) for same-sex and opposite-sex couples in the following year.

Le doyen Carbonnier (1908–2003) famously said « le cœur du mariage, ce n'est pas le couple, c'est la présomption de paternité » [“The heart of marriage is not the couple, but the presumption of paternity.”]

The argument that has hitherto prevailed is (1) Mandatory civil marriage, makes the institution a pillar of the secular [laïque] Republic, standing clear of the religious sacrament (2) The institution of republican marriage is inconceivable, absent the idea of filiation, enshrined, not in Church dogma, but in the Civil Code (3) The sex difference is central to filiation.
written by Manfred, November 29, 2012
Bienvenue et bonjour, M'sieur Duchesne: Are you, and anyone visiting this site, able to tell me why this fervor for aberrosexuality is spreading all through Europe, Canada, Australia, the U.S., etc. NOW?

..., Low-rated comment [Show]
written by Achilles, November 29, 2012
Jack, my dear Jack, you display a grave misunderstanding of tolerance. The Catholic Church knows that all are imbued by their creator with inalienable rights. The right to homosexual activity and acceptance of such behavior is not one of those rights any more than is the right to abuse drugs or alcohol.
It is not a loving act to encourage people in their disorders. Jesus said to the adultress "your sins are forgiven." But don't forget he also said "go and sin no more."

Asking someone to explain their own psychology is foolish. WE are capable of such immense self deceit. Look to Jesus to tell us who we are, why we are here and what our true ends are. Don't look to modern culture which has so badly perverted notions of virtues.
ONe can not be a devout Catholic and dissent against Church Teaching and it is clear as a bell that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and that same sex attraction, although not a sin in itself, is a disorder. THere is no evidence that one is born that way, but an avelanche of evidence that such perversion is fostered by unhealthy relationsips and attempts to normalize what can not be normal.
Don't drink the cool aid Jack, it does not help gay people.
God bless you.
written by Grump, November 29, 2012
Jean, welcome to TCT. You've done a masterful job of framing the debate, which continues to rage in the U.S. and elsewhere on so-called "same-sex marriage." I believe it was Victor Hugo who said, "God is the conscience in us." Although I've been agnostic much of my life, I hold to some of the Catholic teachings I was born into; that marriage is solely and forever between a man and a woman and one of the seven sacraments ordained by Christ. My conscience informs me of right and wrong, not the ephemeral politics of the day.
written by Jacob r, November 29, 2012
Great article.

Welcome to TCT!

I hope they'll bring on more so I'm not forced to read leftist news when I run out of stories here and on FT.
written by Other Joe, November 29, 2012
Jack, one of the most profound errors of "progressive" thinking is that of forced equivalency where none exists. Men and women are different. They just are. Same sex relationships are different. They just are. Talk to your gay friends about their actual experiences. Same sex sex is different. It just is. Most people in a secular society would agree to death benefits (a secular entitlement) for persons who have depended on each financially and emotionally in a largely exclusive relationship for something like the 50 years you describe. Very few, I would suspect, would be bothered by providing dependent couples legal standing. The problem is in trying to make what amounts to friendship with privileges the moral equivalent of the marriage of a man and woman with at least (even in these days) the potential for procreation. One can't do it without diminishing marriage. Sentimentality aside, society has vital (pun noted) interest in supporting the commitment of a man and a woman to each other and to any offspring that might result from the natural expression of their intimacy (emotional as well as physical). This is something that one either understands or does not, but an individual's understanding does not change the critical nature of what has been in all cultures and all eras an important, perhaps the most important, social function. Humans always (not sometimes) fall short of perfection in all relationships, but that is no excuse to render such relationships meaningless by generalizing the definition to the point of absurdity. We owe our gay friends and family members love, not collusion.
written by Ib, November 29, 2012
Nowadays, homosexuals argue that they were "born this way." But not too many years agon (1990s) one recalls Michel Foucault's position in his three volume "History of Sexuality" that homosexuality was invented in the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact, it is very unlikely that homosexual behavior is innate. Most research into human sexuality reveals it to be learned in some way. The major problem for the "born this way" approach is that it takes the category of ‘sexual identity’ itself as outside of historical change, which it clearly is not. The key figure in the attack upon identity as ahistorical is Michel Foucault, himself a practicing homosexual. In a series of scholarly researches, he set out to analyze the history of sexuality from ancient Greece to the modern era (History of Sexuality, 1980, 1985, 1986). Although the project was tragically cut short by his death in 1984, from complications from AIDS, Foucault articulated how profoundly understandings of sexuality can vary across time and space. Other than making for a snappy song title for ephemeral pop singers, the notion of "born this way" has little evidence.

For a Thomist, Foucault's research provides evidence that an individual's social conditioning into a particular sexual identity can be distinguished from his or her behavior, and hence that moral reasoning about the latter is distinct from the former. As the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church states:

"2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. 2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection."

Human sexuality can and does vary, but rather like other aspects of the human psyche. Some people are turned on by sadistic practices that for a Roman Catholic are clearly disordered and immoral. The moral status of an act is measured not by whether it may appear and/or feel good to some humans, but whether it is ordered to the final cause of the human being. What is that final cause? In a purely Aristotlean view, it is the life of virtue. For Thomists, it is the Beatific Vision (of which the life of virtue is part). Whatever our sexuality, Roman Catholics are called to the same life of virtue and Beatific Vision. Any sinful sexual activity, whether homosexual or heterosexual, is to be avoided.
..., Low-rated comment [Show]
written by Jack,CT, November 29, 2012
@Other Joe,
I believe after reading your piece
that we are on the same page.
I do come away with more qestions than what was
You said "Men and Woman are different",I think
you are talking about the "Moral",differences.
I totally respect you and your point of view and
I feel we agree more than disagree.
I agree with you that "we owe our gay friends and
relatives love"
God Bless you,
written by Achilles , November 30, 2012
Dear Jack, I have always found your comments to reflect a kind, compassionate and thoughtful person. My very last intention is to attack you. If I were to see you face to face I would surely bear hug you before we exchanged our first word. So please accept my apology for my language that may have caused offense.

I intended to attack ideas I understand to be poorly formed-

Jack, in looking over your comment again, and speaking solely of the ideas you expressed there, I only agree with your first point, that calling people morons does not advance ideas. But even here, the author didn’t call anyone a moron in the first place. He said “how long will we put up with being treated like morons…”This is a very different thing than calling people morons and asking them to accept ideas.

Jack, look up the study by University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus on children of same sex couples. This alone illustrates pretty clearly the causal link between environment and unhealthy attitudes towards sexual activity.

So far, every time I see a post by Other Joe, not only do I agree with it, I wish I could express things and truthfully and lovingly as he does.

God bless you brother, Achilles
written by Jack,CT, December 01, 2012
Please accept my mutual respect
for you.You have always written wonderful
remarks,so please accept this as my "Bear
hug",to you...
written by Jack,CT, December 01, 2012
"I understand clearly that through love"
"alone can we become pleasing to God,and"
"my sole ambition is to acuire it"
-ST Therese
Low rated comments is not an issue for
me,offending you or any one else does.
I pray for all my brothers and sisters
in Christ,please my point of view is
mine and mine alone and I ask for your
forgiveness if I have offended you.
written by Louise, December 02, 2012
Jack, I'm sorry to have to tell you this but supporting the redefinition of marriage is incompatible with being a devout Catholic. In fact, i would advance the opinion that this is heresy and thus a person obstinately holding this view would be subject to automatic excommunication!
The Church gives us Christ's teachings and He very clearly confirmed the biological definition of marriage which is also so rich in symbolism re our relationship with God.
It is not germane to the question of marriage whether a person with same sex attraction is born that way or not.
written by N.D., December 03, 2012
It is a self-evident truth that only a man and woman can exist in relationship as husband and wife. Marriage, by its very essence, is restrictive, to begin with. The fact that a father and daughter, mother and son, brother and sister, children, two men, two women, one man and two women, one woman and two men, cannot exist in relationship as husband and wife and thus cannot be married to each other, is not unjust discrimination.
written by Louise, December 03, 2012
N.D., agreed. I'm merely pointing out that there is an extra layer of certitude for Catholics in Church teaching that confirms the natural law.
It's crazy that we are even debating the obvious. It shows the power of...well I'm not exactly sure what it is showing the power of!
written by Jack,CT, December 03, 2012
I do not recall giving an opinion
on Gay marriage?
you can run around in circles
tryin to find it....not there!
I support,(since you spoke for me i will
clear it up)Marriage only between a man
and a FEMALE.clear?
written by Augustine, December 03, 2012
This is a quote from Jack CT's above post.

"I suspect I am in the minority but Let gays Marry!
I do not exspect alot of positive feedback,but I
stand for equality for all."

Jack, clearly you wieghed in on this with your support going to gay marriage. Louise had it right in the first place. Going against Church Doctrine is a very dangerous thing to do if one wants to be a "devote" Catholic. "Repent, make the way straight for the Lord." Don't wait for "biology" to weigh in on this, take Christ at his word, anything else is foolish hubris.
written by Jack,CT, December 03, 2012
Dear Augustine:
Thanks for the reminder but
I will deal with issues in regards to my
soul with the Lord.
written by kristinajohannes, December 03, 2012
Jean, perceptive article; thanks for writing.
written by Louise, December 03, 2012
Jack, don't blow off the Communion of Saints...
written by Ben, December 04, 2012
I’ve had the most luck making same-sex marriage proponents think-twice when using only secular logic. Questions like: Why is the government in the marriage business? Does the government care who you “love”? Would marriage exist if humans reproduced asexually?

The rational (secular) basis of marriage is procreation, not romantic love. They will ask; what about infertile couples or couples who do not want children? This question brings a new debate. The debate becomes, should marriage be defined as any man and any woman or only a man and woman willing & able to have children. The question in no way logically justifies same-sex marriage.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters