Countless discussions have been taking place over the past two months on the subject of same-sex marriage in France.
François Hollande and his Socialist ministers are eager to see a law passed opening civil ‘marriage’ ceremonies to same-sex couples. (These would be civil ceremonies only, as France prides itself on being a secular nation.) Socialists point to the ‘broad’ European acceptance of same-sex marriage, citing Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s support for the measure in Great Britain and legalisation in Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden.
It can only be hoped that the debate in the UK will not be as divisive or as protracted as France’s has been. It has become part of the nearly daily diet of discussion on RMC (talk radio) and similarly ubiquitous in the rest of the media.
A few days ago, RMC’s Grandes Gueules (Big Mouths) discussed Education Minister Vincent Peillon’s letter to Catholic school principals concerning homophobia in their schools. It is unclear whether Peillon has actual cases in mind or if he is merely trying to make an example out of the schools in an effort to tar Catholicism in general. After all, late last year, a Green minister — Cécile Duflot — had accused the Church of not doing enough to help the homeless and needy. Yet, the Church in France not only runs several nationwide charities for the poor but many parishes also have successful outreach programmes.
Peillon’s reaction was a response to a letter from Eric de Labarre, the Secretary General of France’s Catholic Schools, proposing that they organise classroom discussions about same-sex marriage. Peillon said that the subject had no place in the classroom.
With the declining quality of state education, an increasing number of French parents are sending their children to Catholic schools, which are at least partially subsidised by the taxpayer. As such, the government holds Catholic school teachers responsible — ‘under contract’ — for teaching the national curriculum, including the secular values which emerged with the Revolution in 1789, further enforced in 1905 with regard to the Catholic Church.
In the RMC discussion, parents of children attending Catholic schools were as concerned about de Labarre’s proposal as well as the Hollande government’s promotion of same-sex marriage. With regard to discussion in school, one mother said that the government’s ‘propaganda’ — her word — was already being diffused in her son’s classroom, ‘bit by bit’. Her son has already been accused at school — by teachers and students — of being homophobic; he simply believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Another parent said that he was worried young pupils would know everything there was about same-sex marriage at the expense of learning addition and subtraction. He also wondered how what age children would be if and when any debate took place; he hoped it would not involve younger children.
UMP deputy (conservative member of Parliament) Laurent Wauquiez accused Peillon of singling out the Catholic Church. Wauquiez called Peillon’s letter ‘a political manipulation’ and ‘insulting’, contending that if the Education Minister would not have dared to attack Islam or Judaism in the same way.
On Sunday, January 13, opponents to same-sex marriage are organising a demonstration in Paris called La Manif Pour Tous (Everyone’s Demonstration). Demonstrators will meet that day at various points in Paris to converge in a central location in the city to hear not only Catholic speakers but also clerics from Islam and Judaism.
These are the concerns of opponents to same-sex marriage which I’ve seen on various fora or heard on RMC:
- Why is it that socialists always shut their opponents up by smearing or insulting them?
- Even if the Education Minister opposes an open discussion in Catholic schools, how will same-sex marriage be presented in the classroom, as it eventually will? How will the state expect Catholic teachers to respond?
- Why should opponents to same-sex marriage automatically be labelled homophobes?
- Why isn’t the current government policy of civil partnership (PACS) — in place for at least a decade — enough for same-sex couples?
- Why is the Muslim community so quiet on the subject when Islam opposes same-sex unions? Have the Socialists promised to examine polygamy once same-sex marriage passes?
- Is attacking the Catholic Church just a cowardly way of avoiding a discussion of Muslim and Jewish opposition to same-sex marriage?
British secularists often claim that if the Church of England were disestablished, social stumbling blocks against measures like same-sex marriage would disappear without trace.
France’s ongoing debate on the subject proves otherwise.
UPDATE: French Catholic activist and satirist Frigide Barjot — a theological conservative, despite her name — was a guest on Marc-Olivier Fogiel’s news roundup on RTL the other day. She is against same-sex marriage and is particularly concerned that Justice Minister Christine Taubira has stated that the bill will prove ‘revolutionary’ in ‘new’ ways ‘when passed’. Barjot worries that this could open the door to legalisation of other unions which go against Scripture.