The French Debate on Gay Marriage

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.