Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité… unless you are Gay

“Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”: these are the words uttered proudly by French citizens when asked about French values. While France advocates such strong values, it comes as a shock to see that the LGBT community in France faces discrimination. It is only as of this month that the French government opened the debate on legalizing gay marriage, which has led to fresh controversies over the so-called French values for human rights.

Image courtesy of Stefan, © 2009, some rights reserved.

Legalizing gay marriage, as well as adoption rights for homosexual couples, was part of François Hollande’s campaign in May 2012. This was a promise he made to the LGBT community. The President of the LGBT society in St Andrews, who is French and lived in Paris most of her life, says that gay marriage is only now on the political agenda in France because of the Right Wing which has always shown itself strongly opposed to gay marriage.

Christiane Taubira, the minister of Justice, announced in an interview for the newspaper “La Croix” that the government was currently working on a bill which would allow gay couples to have the same rights as heterosexual couples. “The bill will enlarge to people of the same sex the current disposition of marriage, of filiation and of kinship” she stated. This will permit gay couples to adopt individually or mutually, as well as give them equal rights to marriage.

The President of the St Andrews LGBT society, affirms that “gay marriage would be a first step to equality”. She points out that gay marriage was legalized in Spain (also a country with a Catholic majority), and finds it almost outrageous that it is still such a controversial topic in the country that prides itself on their respect of human rights going back to the French Revolution.

Since 1999, France offers the PACS (Civil Solidarity Pact) which is a civil union opened to heterosexual and same-sex couples.  The President of LGBT is skeptical about this type of civil union. She personally perceives it more as tool to categorize homosexual couple. She claims, “Every consenting adult who is in love should get married”.

Another second year French student at the University of St Andrews who is also part of the LGBT community, claims that gay rights are currently a widely debated issue. He takes the example of Obama who recently changed his views on gay marriage and publicly expressed a favorable attitude towards it. He refutes the arguments of opponents of gay marriage in the Right Wing party arguing “the argument of tradition is not a good one”. Indeed, he believes that the legal framework of “traditional marriage” focuses on nuclear family. However, even bourgeois families did not adhere to the confines of a nuclear family; parents rarely saw their children, who were brought up usually by a nanny. He also takes the example of French royalty who largely didn’t care for their children.

The family structure is indeed changing with the evolution of marriage. Divorce has become more common which is often associated with the decay of marriage as an institution. In France, for instance, almost one out of two marriages ends in divorce. This has led to a number of transformations in the family unit with many more families of single parents.

This second-year student believes, however, that legalizing gay marriage will bring back faith in marriage. He admits to a general declining interest in marriage in France and believes people are also less likely to commit nowadays because of a desire for flexibility in the age of travel and new technology. However, he rejects the idea that marriage is an archaic institution. Legalizing gay marriage would “restore a positive image of marriage” he claims, as well as bring the institutional framework of marriage in concordance with the family structure of the 21st century.

The LGBT President agrees with the second-year on the fact that legalizing gay marriage would be a huge step forward. She believes marriage to be a “beautiful way to commit to someone” and sees love as the basis for marriage. She affirms that the government has no right to stop two people from expressing their love for each other through marriage. She concludes that “if you don’t do it for love, you are missing the point and if you don’t let people who love each other do it, you are missing the point as well”.

Both students feel that opponents of gay marriage have the idea that gay marriage will mean all homosexuals will marry and will alter heterosexual marriage. However, both the second-year and the President of the LBGT society claim that gay marriage will not affect heterosexual couples. People who desire a more traditional nuclear familial structure are free to adhere to one.

Having both lived in France for part of their teenage years, these students perceive France still as a very conservative country, despite its “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” motto. The second-year spent 6 months in France when he was in the 10th grade and was shocked by the attitude towards the LGBT community in his school.  For instance, he was uncomfortable with words gay slurs used as common insults in the school. Having lived in Berlin most of his life, he noticed a large discrepancy in French attitude towards the gay community compared to Germany’s.

The LGBT President also had a difficult experience during her last year of high school in an all-girl catholic school in France.  She was shocked by the students’ and staff’s discriminating attitude towards the LGBT community. “I remember my biology teacher used to refer to AIDS as the gay disease”. However, she felt constrained to not voice her opinions, afraid she might get expelled if she did.

Their experiences suggest that a conservative attitude still runs deep among the French population. The fact that gay marriage is now on the political agenda is a step towards equality. Both the second-year and the LGBT President feel that discrimination of gay people is still an issue that should be tackled in France. They both conclude on a capitalist note, saying that in a time of economic recession, legalizing gay marriage will also be beneficial for the marriage industry. Moritz adds, not without a hint of humor, “Who knows? Gay marriage could be the solution for the European Economic Crisis”.