By Delphine Rooz –
On 12 April 2013, the French Senate adopted Bill n°344, which opens marriage to same-sex couples—a key issue among François Hollande’s promises during the 2012 presidential campaign. Earlier, the French Constitutional Court had ruled that the prohibition of same-sex marriage was not contrary to the Constitution. It therefore had to be addressed by either the government or the Parliament, and ultimately decided by the latter.
Bill n°344 was thus submitted to the Parliament by French Government on 7 November 2012; on 12 February 2013, the French National Assembly adopted the Bill and on 9 April, the Senate approved its core provision, Article 1, which will not be subjected to further discussion or amendment. Should the National Assembly express its final approval, the French Civil Code would provide that “marriage is contracted between two persons of different sex or of the same sex”.
Before the French National Assembly, although Article 1 was approved at an early stage by a vast majority (249-97), the Bill itself was adopted ten days later (opponents had introduced more than 5000 amendments) by a 329–229 vote. This apparent contradiction echoes the country’s underlying socio-political complexities.
Two groups of French citizens seem as sharply opposed as the main political parties: most representatives from the Socialist Party approved the Bill, whilst almost every member of the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) voted against it; in the streets, the “manif pour tous” (demonstration for all) protestors and the “mariage pour tous” (marriage for all) counter-protestors both present the impression that they outnumber their opponents.
The intense, polemical and sometimes violent opposition between demonstrators however reflects neither French public opinion nor the intricacies of the national political landscape. Firstly, although opinion polls consistently suggest that around 55-60% of citizens support same-sex marriage, the protestors do not reflect the diversity of French opponents. French media recently revealed that most organisations involved in the protest demonstrations are linked to religious and / or radical right groups.
Secondly, the French Right is not as united as it seems. Only few members of the UMP have expressed objections to same-sex marriage itself; most representatives only address the issue of adoption and argue that same-sex marriage adoption would inevitably be followed by legalization of medically assisted conception and surrogate mothers.
The issue of same-sex marriage hence reveals the bipolar nature of the UMP, which, for many years, managed to reunite liberal and conservatives under a common political rhetoric. The party now has to define its role as lead opponent to the Socialist party and the debate offers an opportunity to observe the evolution of the French political landscape. Will the UMP reframe the political debate with the Socialist party on mostly economic grounds? Will it strengthen its speech on moral and religious values? Or did the issue of same-sex marriage reveal the inevitability of a schism within the French right-wing historical party? The recent behaviour of members of the UMP – predicting riots and a revolution or protesting against the “assassination of children” – might reinforce the third hypothesis, as developments unfold.
In the meantime, it is expected that the National Assembly will express its final approval in May 2013 and, in the wake of its legalization in New Zealand, France will likely become the 14th State to allow same-sex marriage.
Delphine Rooz, Doctor of Laws, is a Lecturer at University Paris I: Panthéon-Sorbonne.