Since the 18th of May 2013 gay marriage is legal in France. Being the now ninth European country (and the 14th worldwide) to have an official law allowing same-sex marriage, this marks another step forward in Europe’s social evolution. The issue is also tackled in the United Kingdom: On March 22nd a bill passed in the House of Commons, but now still awaits approval of the more conservative House of Lords.
Passing the law in France certainly encountered a few bumps along the way. After François Hollande was elected president in May 2012, he finally made good on his electoral promise of legalizing same-sex marriage. Hollande, after one year in power certainly not one of France’s most beloved presidents, had to deal with major protests in January 2013, where 340.000 people expressed their opposition to gay marriage. But despite these protests, he managed to get his legislative proposal passed in the Assemblée Nationale in April. Two months later, the bill also passed the Sénat, but only after an inquiry by the Constitutional Court. The latter ruled that this bill is in no way a violation of the Constitution, but also clearly stated that same-sex child adoption is a totally different issue and needs further investigation if it were proposed to become legal.
Legalizing gay marriage certainly could generate direly needed positive publicity for the French president. Hollande’s popularity is shrinking daily in France, and a second presidential term still seems unlikely for the socialist. But the question remains if this is enough to counteract his negative public reception. Probably not, since the right-conservative UMP loves to pound on Hollande’s shortcomings, ranging from unfulfilled electoral promises to his semi-official relationship with the journalist Valérie Trierweiler. The UMP did everything in their power to prevent the law from passing, but since this is now a lost cause, they focus on the president’s economic reforms now. A smart choice, since the same-sex-marriage issue is splitting the ranks of the UMP and could be compromising their chances in upcoming elections.
Another opponent is of course the Catholic Church, which seems to have gained a surprising amount of popularity among the French. Bishops openly critisised the law, and have indeed convinced many people to take their disagreement to the streets. A weird phenomena, if we keep in mind that France was one of the first countries to embrace secularism and proclaim “Liberté, egalité et fraternité” for all.
Another political force agitating against same-sex marriage is the French far-right. An ultra-right French historian, journalist and essayist Dominique Venner committed suicide only a few days ago, as a form of protest against gay marriage. He shot himself on the altar of the Notre-Dame de Paris, leaving behind a suicide note claiming that same-sex marriage was unnatural and hoping his symbolic suicide would lead to stopping this ‘madness’. French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has expressed her understanding of Venner’s act, hereby also clearly signaling Hollande and his socialist government that her political party will continue their fight against same-sex marriage.
On a more positive note, the United Kingdom has taken a major step in legalization themselves. But, just as approval in the House of Commons seemed like a walk in the park, getting approval in the way more conservative House of Lords might be mission impossible. Prime Minister David Cameron, conservative-party leader, resisted the bill at first, but, to the great dismay of his some of his fellow party members. Cameron, who has also recently proposed quite controversial measures concerning the British membership of the EU, seems to be suffering from the Hollande-disease, namely declining popularity, especially among his fellow party members. One can only hope that the anti-gay marriage protest in the UK doesn’t follow France’s raucous example, and thus leaving the Big Ben suicide-free.
Legalizing gay marriage is not only booming in Europe, but also throughout the rest of Western civilization. The United States have also taken significant strides towards all-American legislation. In 12 states there already is a law that makes gay marriage legal, 6 of whom were passed during the last two years. Last but not least, the United Nations also concerns himself with the topic at hand. Last week the UN Human Rights Office joined in fighting homophobia by launching a video on the YouTube, called ‘The Riddle’, the movie states that being gay is still illegal in 76 countries and in some even punishable by prison or worse.
“Being gay” seems to be losing its societal stigma and is now readily discussed by policymakers, but it still has a long way to go, as opponents are still speaking out strongly with words and actions. However, the progress we see in France, the UK and even the US is very promising. Maybe these three little sparks could kindle a great fire.