France makes it official

And so another domino falls. A vote in the National Assembly overnight made France the 14th country to legalise same-sex marriage, hot on the heels of number 13, New Zealand, last week.

The media were able, not quite accurately, to portray New Zealand’s vote as a matter of cross-party consensus. No such opportunity in France, where it was largely a party-line vote: those in favor were almost all from the government, and those against almost all from the opposition. A handful crossed over either way, but the margin of 331 to 225 was very close to the left’s overall majority of 340-226.

(The National Assembly website is extremely helpful, giving a breakdown of voting on the bill by parliamentary group – well worth a look, even if your French is only rudimentary. It’s something other parliaments should emulate. Despite such assistance, the BBC again managed to get it wrong, giving the vote in favor as 321, not 331.)

Same-sex marriage has been a divisive issue in France for some months now, with massive demonstrations against the bill. It contrasts with the generally positive atmosphere in New Zealand, and has led some commentators to wonder what it is about France that makes it different. As Fairfax’s Nick Miller said yesterday, “New Zealand’s parliament famously sang with joy. In France’s last week, MPs threw punches at each other at the end of a long and acrimonious debate.”

To my mind, this is one of those questions that it’s not necessary to overthink. Instead of having recourse to the mysterious power of France’s ancient but long-dormant Catholicism, I’d point to two explanations on the surface.

First, France (and especially Paris) simply has a culture of mass protest unlike most other countries. It was sanctified by the revolution, but it probably goes back at least as far as the “day of the barricades” in 1588. Public policy is repeatedly held hostage by demonstrations, as for example in the 2006 struggle over youth unemployment.

But the second factor is the politics: New Zealand had a large measure of consensus because same-sex marriage was proposed under a conservative government, supported largely by the left. In France, it was an official measure of a centre-left government. Its centre-right opposition opposed it, not because it had a strong ideological position, but because that’s what oppositions do.

The partisan nature of the debate encouraged (and in turn was encouraged by) the mass protests, but that doesn’t mean that the opposition UMP is fundamentally any different from its Australian or New Zealand counterparts. Its leaders are happy to collect votes from the extremists in the street, but the chance that they will reverse the measure when they return to government is negligible.

6 thoughts on “France makes it official

  1. Charles,

    I just think things are a lot more complicated than what you opined but I guess like most subjects in the “press” these days things are limited to “grabs”. Must be the mentality of the age.

    France is not the same country I first visited in the seventies and it would take a lot of social study to put words to my impression of where France is at the moment in history. The ethnic diversity for a start.

    I also think same-sex marriage demands a much more rigorous intellectual debate than is given in the main stream.

    Im guilty of demanding much but on the assumption that the world is a much more intelligent place than it sometimes appears to be…mea culpa.

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  2. Harry,

    I agree that same-sex marriage is deserving of more in-depth perusal, but I must apologise when I say that my reasoning for this is because I believe it would lead to much more widespread acceptance of the practice. I cannot see any reason why anyone could have a problem with it, other than that they find it repulsive or are following a religious dogma on the subject. If you can think of anything that I haven’t, I’d be very pleased to hear about it – I’m always open to changing my mind, given adequate evidence!

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  3. Its a debate that is fraught with the homosexuals vitriolic lobby groups that gain the centre stage all the time.

    Anyone who objects to homosexuality is considered a societal pariah for no other reason than their objections. Perhaps an inversion of the pain suffered previously by homosexuals.

    To me there is a plethora of historical arguments why the male and female union is considered the best and most beneficial structure for a society. I have no religiosity to support this argument just common sense both anatomically and historically.

    Many structures, both economical and societal, have been tried over and over again in civilisation ( Greek Roman etc etc etc) and the structure which keeps returning is the current one.

    You ask do I find male anal sex repulsive..yes I do. Nothing to do with religion its called genetic make-up.

    Do homosexuals find heterosexual sex repulsive?

    I am weary of having to debate what I consider common sense however I will try to respond over time with further arguments.

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  4. So France looked hesitant to legalize same-sex marriage compared to New Zealand. But no matter, because the result is, both the two have made the decision. And now, hopefully Australia will make a decision to support same-sex marriage soon. What is the hold-up with legalizing homosexual marriages? Some say that it will result in adopting other questionable marriages, such as a woman and a rat. Homosexual people have every right as a heterosexual person would have, but two people who love each other cannot marry because of the fear of having to face these bizarre marriages? Is the latter a good marriage because it has only one from each sex, or rodent? There have been arguments saying same-sex marriages are harming to heterosexual marriages. This is non-sense; it is up to the married partners to decide on divorce. In fact, some same-sex marriages will last much longer than heterosexual marriages. Also, it is not only the same-sex marriages we should look at, but also what would happen afterwards. A gay couple would, if they were stable enough, to adopt a child. If the child has a legal family who were bound by law, it would create a better environment for the family than parents who are not legally recognized as married. Perhaps this will change your mind towards same-sex marriages. Even if they are not accepted, they should not be discriminated against.

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