France Destroys Marriage, then Saves It?

The debate stopper par excellence in any conversation about homosexual marriage is supposed to be the unanswerable question, the one that highlights the absurdity and reflexive bigotry of marriage defenders: “If gay marriage is so harmful to marriage, how will it harm your marriage?”

Well actually, homosexual marriage would never harm my marriage. In fact, if gay marriage was allowed today and if every living, breathing homosexual got married, my marriage would likely not be affected, even a little bit. It would not drive me to divorce my wife or into the arms of a man.

The point is not that homosexual marriage or even civil unions will harm existing marriages, but that it will harm marriage as an institution. Marriage in general would be denigrated and that will undermine marriage formation among the young.  In short, it will harm my daughters’ prospects for marriage and happiness. Statistics bear this out.

Social science clearly shows the best chance of happiness for adults is within marriage. Toss in weekly religious observance and your chances for happiness grow even more. For children, there is no comparison. Children raised in an intact married family fare better, by any measure, than those who are not so blessed.

A decade ago the French embarked on an experiment in phony marriage called pacte civil de solidarité, or PACS. PACS is a form of civil union that anyone may enter into. It confers tax breaks and other benefits of marriage to any couple who walks through the door, homosexual or otherwise.

The results have been startling. Marriage, already shaky among the French, became even shakier. Almost immediately, marriages began to decline at a much faster rate than before. At the time of the PACS debate, 350,000 demonstrators poured into the streets of Paris claiming that PACS would destroy traditional marriage. They were laughed at. But they were right.

Two things happened. First, the homosexuals were not satisfied with PACS (more on that later). Second, heterosexuals joined civil unions in droves. Within twelve months of the PACS becoming law, fully 75 percent of civil unions were signed between heterosexual couples. In 2009, 173,045 couples entered into civil unions, 95 percent of them heterosexual.

Le mariage est terminé.

Does this translate into fewer Frenchmen getting married? The French have shown an increasing disdain for marriage. In 1970, 400,000 Frenchmen married. Twenty-nine years later, in the year of the ratification of PACS , this number had already declined to 300,000, a drop of 25 percent. But PACS has hastened the decline. In just ten years since the adoption of PACS, the married number declined even more steeply – 16 percent – to 250,000 marriages.

A PACS union is remarkably easy to get into and even easier to get out of. All it takes is a written statement, one going in and another going out.

Why the “success” of PACS? Anti-Christianity is certainly one culprit. Wilfried Rault, a sociologist at the National Institute for Demographic Studies told the New York Times that marriage is viewed as “heavy and invasive” and tied to closely to Christianity: “Marriage bears the traces of religious imprint.”

Sophia Lazzaro, who has had a PACS union since 2006, agrees, “Marriage has a side that’s very institutional and very square and very religious.” But she also admitted that she wanted, rather naively, something hard to square with PACS: “I have two daughters, and if something happens to me, I want us to stay together as a family . . . . But without getting married.”

Among all EU countries, the French have just about the least interest in marriage – their disinterest exceeded only by the Swedes. Sweden, by the way, is one of the other early European adopters of civil unions and now allows full-blown homosexual marriage.

What these experiences teach us is this: when anything is a marriage, then nothing is a marriage; marriage is no longer necessary. This, as France has shown, is not lost on the young.

The second interesting and revealing thing that happened with PACS is that the homosexuals were not satisfied with civil unions alone. They began a public campaign to overturn the part of the French constitution asserting that marriage is only for men and women, together. Just last week the French high court decided against them saying the provision of man/woman marriage is constitutional.

This demonstrates, if such a demonstration is still needed, the aggressiveness of the homosexual lobby. They will not rest until law and society not only approve, but also honor their personal proclivities. They think social honor will assuage their uneasy consciences.

There is good news here, at least for Americans. Justice Anthony Kennedy – upon whose shoulders probably rests any future Supreme Court decision on homosexual marriage – likes referring to foreign or at least European law in Constitutional interpretation. There are now two foreign decisions against homosexual marriage – one in the European Court of Human Rights and now another in France. Strasbourg and Paris may be too much for Kennedy to resist. These may coax him into making the right decision.

The other good news is that France did in fact uphold traditional marriage. Ho-hum, who cares any longer? The French don’t seem to. They appear to have given up on marriage long ago, and may never get it back.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.