Why Did France Take So Long to Approve Gay Marriage? Aren’t the French Ultra-Liberal?

What Women Really Think
April 24 2013 4:01 PM

Why Did France Take So Long to Approve Gay Marriage? Aren’t the French Ultra-Liberal?

167283271
Supporters of the anti-gay marriage movement protest during a demonstration in Paris

Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images

That’s how New York Times journalist Lydia Polgreen reacted on Twitter Tuesday to the news that the French National Assembly had voted to approve same-sex marriage.

“Yeah, could have fooled me, France is so… Uhm, free?” replied one of her followers.

Advertisement

As a French journalist based in the United States, I find the cliché of an ultra-liberal France to be misguided. In the collective imagination of Americans everywhere, my promiscuous country celebrates love, any type of love, on all occasions—which should mean that it celebrates any type of sexual orientation. Unfortunately, that’s just not true.

The French may have a reputation for treating sex more casually than other nationalities, but there’s nothing casual about marriage—and when it comes to a key social reform, France has not lived up to its “free-spirit” reputation.

Though polls consistently show that a majority of the French are in favor of gay marriage, all but 10 of the conservative members of parliament voted against the “marriage for all” bill. Valérie Pécresse, a former minister of the Sarkozy administration, even vowed to “unmarry” gay couples once the right returned to power. In this respect, U.S. Republicans, dozens of whom signed a brief supporting same-sex unions at the end of February, appear to be more open-minded than their French peers.

Further proof that the French aren’t as liberal as they sound: The most controversial aspect of the bill that just passed is that it allows gay couples to adopt. That’s not something French society has come to terms with yet. According to a February Ifop poll, only 47 percent of my countrymen believe gays and lesbians should be able to adopt children, though 66 percent think they should be allowed to wed. Most reject the idea that gay couples should be allowed to use fertility treatments, which are currently only available to the straight. In the United States, on the other hand, more states allow homosexuals to adopt than to marry. Gay families seem to be a logical consequence of gay relationships for Americans—but not for the French.  

The debate around same-sex marriage has shown France’s conservative underbelly. Homophobia has spiked since lawmakers started discussing the bill back in November 2012. In the past three months, SOS Homophobie reported almost as many calls about attacks against gay people as in the whole of 2011. At the beginning of April, a picture of a young man who had been assaulted for holding hands with his boyfriend in Paris went viral on Facebook: “It’s the face of homophobia,” the caption read.

So, until now, my country hasn’t been that “free,” if you ask me. What’s true is that most of the people protesting gay marriage are striving to look “modern” and “relaxed” about the issue. The woman who leads the “antis,” a humorist called Frigide Barjot (or “Crazy Frigid”), keeps reminding journalists she has “gay friends.” Before she battled LGBT rights, she was known for singing sexually explicit songs. Like France itself, she seemed liberal, until she proved she wasn’t.

Now that it actually has same-sex marriage, let’s hope France becomes as free as everyone seems to think it is.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 22 2014 8:07 AM Why Haven’t the Philadelphia Eagles Ever Won a Super Bowl?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Science
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 7:47 AM Predicting the Future for the U.S. Government The strange but satisfying work of creating the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.