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January 28, 2013

France Divided Over Gay Marriage Issue

by Henry Ridgwell

French lawmakers debate a new law Tuesday which would allow gay couples to marry and adopt children. A number of countries in Europe have enacted laws allowing homosexual couples to marry, but the issue has sparked heated debate in France.
 
The issue of children has come to dominate the debate in France. Allowing same-sex couples to adopt has divided the country, even more deeply than allowing them to marry.

The Socialist party of President Francois Hollande enjoys a majority in parliament and should easily vote the bill through.

But the law’s opponents are determined to stop it.

One woman has become the public face of that opposition. Frigide Barjot, a comedienne with striking blonde hair, says the majority of French people are behind her.

Barjot says that families must stay united around the concept of parenthood. Even if some children are raised between loving couples of the same sex, she says, the child cannot lose his or her origin without losing the ties that bind society.

Polls show a slim majority support gay marriage. But Barjot and her backers are demanding a referendum and are taking their protests beyond Paris to other parts of the country.

A march against the law change in the capital last month attracted hundreds of thousands of people.

Among them were members of ‘"Homovox," a website which provides a platform for homosexuals who oppose gay marriage.

Nathalie de Williencourt, the website's cofounder, says homosexual couples are different from heterosexual couples because they cannot procreate. They know, she says, that two women or two men cannot generate life.

The Catholic Church in France backs opposition to gay marriage. But those who support the law say that in the land of liberty, equality and fraternity, the right to marry should be extended to gay couples.

Supporters made their demands clear at a rally in Paris Sunday. Police say 125,000 people attended, around one-third of the number who marched against the law. The mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, who is gay, was among them.

The head of a gay rights group, Frédéric Navarro, says the law would be a landmark change for homosexual couples.  Navarro, president of Act Up Paris, also says gay married couples can raise children just as well as heterosexual partners.

“We say to those who are against marriage for all: Yes, the important thing is children raised within a family. And the denigration of homosexuality, to regard homosexuality as if we are somehow below society. … Sorry, but we are beyond that now," said Navarro.

Gay rights groups say they have seen a rise in the number of verbal and physical attacks on gay people since the debate intensified last summer.

Opponents of the law say they will continue their protests even if the bill is passed.