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Gay Marriage: Paris and London debating simultaneously
On Sunday 13, two days before the French Parliament started to examine the draft bill permitting gay marriage and adoption, between 340 000 and 800 000 demonstrators marched in Paris against the project. Controversy also sparked in the UK when David Cameron guaranteed the legalisation of gay marriage by 2015. What is behind this debate that divides both countries on each side of the Channel?
Since Tuesday 16 January, French Members of Parliament have been examining the draft bill that would open marriage and adoption to gay couples. The previous day, Axelle Lemaire, MP representing French nationals living in Northern Europe, organised a public debate at the Arlington Center in Camden at the request of her electorate. Mme Lemaire and the two other panellists, Irène Théry, a sociologist specialised in gender studies and Renaud Digoin-Danzin, director of the UK based firm SPIE, argued in favour of what they consider as “a true progress for society”.
In favour of Gay Marriage
From a legal viewpoint, Mme Lemaire insisted on the need to regulate relationships between same sex couples, who do not benefit from the same areas of legal protection. In the case of their partner’s death, for example, they cannot inherit nor prove their widowhood and when it comes to their child, they have no authority whatsoever if they are not the biological parent.
Irène Théry brought a socio-historic insight to this legal issue, asserting that gay marriage does not represent a radical social change. The traditional nuclear family has had its day and all sorts of combinations have been emerging during the past century. She also underlined that the filiation link should stay separated from sexuality, as historically, children’s education did not always go hand in hand with heterosexuality.
Finally, Renaud Digoin-Danzin, came back on the symbolic importance of gay marriage. Coming out of the closet can restrain career progression and society needs to give to gay couples the opportunity to make the most of their talent at work.
"A conference more than a debate"
“Our interventions were very instructive, nevertheless this is not a debate. All the panellists were in favour of the project, we actually came to a conference.” Members of the public immediately pointed out the partiality of the discussion, but Axelle Lemaire denied intentionally excluding opposition speakers, arguing that they could not come because of logistic issues. However, she “regrets that we essentially debated about the debate, which means that most of their arguments consisted in saying that we did not invite members of the opposition.”
"The need for a mother and a father"
Members of the Church and regular churchgoers were the only ones to consider that gay marriage troubles the marital institution, as most of the atheist opposition is ready to open basic civil rights to gay couples. Yet no consensus has been found when it comes to adopting children and even less regarding assisted reproductive technology (ART). The opponents argue that a father and a mother are both essential to a child’s education and that ART could lead to a dangerous industrialisation of child making. However, Axelle Lemaire pointed out that ART was no longer part of the draft bill.
The United Kingdom "a country which is also working on these issues"
The MP also gave a comparative insight to the debate: “I think it is really interesting that we live in a country which is also working on these issues. Gay marriage will be debated in the House of Commons in March”. David Cameron’s government, allied with the Liberal Democrats, has said to be in favour of civil marriage for gay couples. On Tuesday 11 December 2012, he presented publicly the text, but the draft bill has many differences with France. This is partly due to the advance of Great Britain regarding gay rights.
In 2002, at the cutting edge of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender) rights, the British allowed single people to adopt (Adoption and Child Act). As it is no longer required to be a heterosexual couple to adopt, gays can adopt a child as a single parent. In 2005, Tony Blair’s government instituted the Civil Union, which gives to gay couples the same rights as those given by marriage. Finally, since 2009, ART is legal in the UK, allowing all gay couples (male or female) to have children.
The gay marriage bill is mainly a symbolic issue even though the Conservatives are divided on the matter. The Anglican Church is the main problem as it refuses to celebrate marriages that it does not support. The draft bill does not oblige the Anglican Church to celebrate weddings and will allow other religions the choice as to whether they want to celebrate these weddings.
Axelle Lemaire pointed out another comparative element that surprises in France: “the Tories, the British Conservatives, considered traditionally like the right of the right in French politics, decided to introduce the gay marriage issue in their programme which will be examined in the House of Commons in March”. The French right wing party, which is one of the most conservative in Europe concerning LGBT rights is very surprised to see David Cameron propose the gay marriage bill.
Even though the gay marriage issue divides society on each side of the Channel, both projects are likely to become laws. In London 56% of the Tories and more than two thirds of Labour (ComRes) are in favour of the project, which indicates a positive vote in March. On the other side, the French government is determined to approve the project and the beginning of the review by the French Parliament is on 29 January 2013.