Reflections on the Revolution in France

Hundreds of thousands gathered in a massive demonstration in Paris last weekend to protest President Francois Hollande’s plan to legalize so-called gay marriage and adoption by gay couples. The diverse coalition included Catholic, Muslim, and Evangelical leaders and laity, secular conservatives and gay people. There was also a rousing performance by French comedian Frigide Barjot. (Get it?)

Many, myself included, were delighted by reports of the event and accompanying photos of the Champ de Mars packed with French citizens waving pink and baby blue signs reading “1 Pere + 1 Mere C’est Elementaire” and “La Manif pour Tous.” (“The Demonstration for All.”) This is France, after all, land of Voltaire, Bohemianism, and Jacques Derrida. France, of the 35-hour work week, subsidized child care, and the aforementioned Socialist President Hollande. Yet, this!

Also fascinating is the rather benign response to the protest from gay marriage advocates in France. Reports state that protestors traveled to and from the site and handed out literature without the sort of red-faced shouting matches one might expect at a similar event in the United States and elsewhere.

What explains such unusual circumstances? What can marriage preservationists in the States learn from these events?

One lesson is the importance of a legitimate alternative to marriage that provides legal protection to important personal relationships. France legalized civil solidarity pacts (PACS), a legal alternative to marriage available to any two adults, in 1999. Though the scope of PACS is more limited than marriage licensure, they provide a means for same-sex couples desiring formal legal recognition of their commitment to–and responsibility for–one another. (It is worth noting that the vast majority of PACS in France are between opposite-sex couples.)

A second lesson is the widespread recognition of the important role of families to the functioning of civil society in France. Growing concern about fertility rates below replacement levels led the government to enact numerous programs to incentivize bigger families, including liberal paid maternity leave, tax credits, and child care subsidies. The French, including many who have no moral objection to homosexuality, recognize the basic point that children benefit from intact homes including the unique contributions of both a mother and a father.

Marriage preservationists like me would do well to allow these lessons to influence our efforts. We should present a viable alternative to marriage that offers legal recognition to the range of interpersonal relationships lacking sufficient status to confer important benefits including, but not limited to, same-sex romantic couples. We should also augment conservative arguments against things like the death tax with consideration of its unfair application to non-married couples who wish to bestow inheritances to their loved ones.

As an evangelical Christian, I am unwilling to neglect my faith’s teaching on the morality of homosexual behavior. However, arguing solely on the basis of Christian sexual ethics is insufficient in America’s diverse public square. That marriage is inherently related to the creation and rearing of children, and that the right of children to a mother and a father is sacrosanct, are both broadly applicable and compelling.

New polling shows that the marriage movement is changing the French public’s attitudes about the meaning and importance of marriage. Despite the narrative of inevitability so widely promulgated in American media, the domestic debate is far from settled. 

  1. James Of England
    Zafar

    James Of England

     

    The defense of marriage is properly aimed at substantively defending marriage, not at headlines.

    The French put their money where their mouth is wrt natalist, pro-child policies. (child care, maternity leave, etc.)  Their pro-family actions are positive (things that concretely help families with children) rather than just negative (excluding gay people from marriage).

    The US also has pro-child policies; welfare reform is amongst the foremost successes of the American, conservative, form of state child support. It also provides tax deductions and so on for children. That someone does not call for the state to do something does not signify a lack of support for that thing.

    Nanda Panjandrum: I was…… dismayed to see my ISP’s login page describe the event as an “anti-gay protest”.  

    When they’re protesting the Govt’s intention to give gay partnerships the same value and respect as it does heterosexual partnerships, then it really seems as if the MSM narrative is basically grounded in truth.

    “I’m not anti-gay, I’m just pro-traditional marriage’ seems glib and evasive to me. ·

    You do not believe it possible to honestly oppose SSM without anti-gay animus?

  2. Trace

    My understanding was that organizers carefully scripted the event including signage.

    But the connection between the benefits of a mother and father and opposing gay marriage is far from obvious. Unless of course the attendees at the rally were making the point that gay couples should be prevented from raising children. Was that the point?

    Can you connect in a more concrete way how discouraging same sex marriage is supposed to encourage the formation of nuclear families?

    I suppose the argument is about slippery slopes, but it seems quite esoteric. Why not protest easy divorce laws, or the subsidization of single-parent households. Or why not be intellectually honest and protest same sex parental adoptions?

  3. Aaron Miller
    Eric Teetsel, Guest Contributor:

    One lesson is the importance of a legitimate alternative to marriage that provides legal protection to important personal relationships.

    In Texas, hosptial visitation rights and various other liberties have been ensured apart from marriage licenses. Do you think that has mollified the gay lobby?

    They seek validation, not freedom.

  4. Misthiocracy

    The Province of Alberta also brought in legal partnerships for any two adults, so same-sex couples, siblings or even roommates could share things like health benefits, etc.

    In the end, it didn’t stop gay marriage from being imposed at the federal level.

  5. Brian Clendinen

    Wait a minute, I heard multiple time on the news and they said thousands not hundreds of thousands. Can MSM not do math, or do they only read AP headlines and not the first sentence.  Buy 340 thousand is whole magnitudes different in importance than thousands.

  6. Jeff Schulte

    Another example of this being a cultural battle and not one for legal rights – NJ has civil unions, but the push is still on to impose gay marriage.

  7. Leslie Watkins

    I like the idea of PACS (legal recognition of intimate partnerships in another form; I’ve long stopped concerning myself with validation—by straight people and gay folks alike). However, I wonder if the prevalence of PACS among opposite-sex partners belies a decrease in interest in traditional marriage as a result of ever increasing divorce rates and associated legal battles. If so, it would argue strongly for a greater concern with divorce, which seems to me to be damaging marriage far more than gay people suddenly clamoring for acceptance in this way. (The irony will be that if marriage does become something that gays are allowed to do, you’re going to find lots of gay people regretting it, once the breakups inevitably occur and the state takes a genuine interest in each other’s property.)

  8. Misthiocracy
    Leslie Watkins:

    However, I wonder if the prevalence of PACS among opposite-sex partners belies a decrease in interest in traditional marriage as a result of ever increasing divorce rates and associated legal battles. 

    I’m not sure. Do we know how many of those opposite-sex PACS are romantic relationships, compared to the number that aren’t, such as someone taking care of their elderly aunt who wants to add her to their health insurance, or whatnot?

  9. Leslie Watkins
    Misthiocracy

    Leslie Watkins:

    However, I wonder if the prevalence of PACS among opposite-sex partners belies a decrease in interest in traditional marriage as a result of ever increasing divorce rates and associated legal battles. 

    I’m not sure. Do we know how many of those opposite-sex PACS are romantic relationships, compared to the number that aren’t, such as someone taking care of their elderly aunt who wants to add her to their health insurance, or whatnot? · 2 minutes ago

    Good point, though is it necessary in France to have a formal partnership in order to get better health care? I was thinking in terms of common law marriage, which I believe is still legal in many states and that I suspect involves couples without children (though I don’t know).

  10. Misthiocracy
    Leslie Watkins

    Misthiocracy

    Leslie Watkins:

    However, I wonder if the prevalence of PACS among opposite-sex partners belies a decrease in interest in traditional marriage as a result of ever increasing divorce rates and associated legal battles. 

    I’m not sure. Do we know how many of those opposite-sex PACS are romantic relationships, compared to the number that aren’t, such as someone taking care of their elderly aunt who wants to add her to their health insurance, or whatnot?

    Good point, though is it necessary in France to have a formal partnership in order to get better health care? I was thinking in terms of common law marriage, which I believe is still legal in many states and that I suspect involves couples without children (though I don’t know). 

    I dunno the answer regarding France, but the lack of a requirement for a “romantic” relationship is the big distinction between a “PAC” and a common law marriage. A “PAC” is an agreement between any two adults. I don’t believe they even need to be living together.

  11. Zafar
    James Of England

    The US also has pro-child policies; welfare reform is amongst the foremost successes of the American, conservative, form of state child support. It also provides tax deductions and so on for children. That someone does not call for the state to do something does not signify a lack of support for that thing.

    It’s a matter of degree, and perhaps method and agenda, isn’t it?  Wrt welfare reform – I honestly *do* recognise the awfulness of warehousing generation after generation on the dole.  Otoh, how can *more* children growing up hungry be called a success?  Isn’t there another way of getting from Point A to Point B?

    You do not believe it possible to honestly oppose SSM without anti-gay animus? · 24 minutes ago

    Of course it’s possible – it just seems very rare, and it certainly doesn’t seem to be the genuinely dominant voice for the position.  A lot of opposition seems to come from people who are deeply uncomfortable with homosexuality itself, and are ill at ease with gay people.  It comes across as either open hostility, or more often as smug glibness.

  12. Mrs. of England
    Aaron Miller

    Eric Teetsel, Guest Contributor:

    One lesson is the importance of a legitimate alternative to marriage that provides legal protection to important personal relationships.

    In Texas, hosptial visitation rights and various other liberties have been ensured apart from marriage licenses. Do you think that has mollified the gay lobby?

    In the UK the Civil Partnership Act of 2004 gave same-sex couples rights that are identical to hetrosexual civil marriage – including property rights, state benefits, parental rights, rights of next of kin, pensions, insurance, etc. You can also dissolve the partnership like a divorce. Enshrining these rights in law has not stopped the call for full “gay marriage” and recently the government has proposed a bill that would legalise this. Provisions that have been proposed to protect religious institutions from having to perform these “marriages” have, in the last few days, been shown to be able to be legally challenged, and, if the law is enacted, means churches could be sued if they refused to perform such unions.  I have no doubt that the first church to refuse to marry a gay couple will be taken to court immediately just to prove a point!
  13. Leslie Watkins

    double post

  14. James Of England
    Zafar

    James Of England

    The US also has pro-child policies; welfare reform is amongst the foremost successes of the American, conservative, form of state child support.

    It’s a matter of degree, and perhaps method and agenda, isn’t it?  Wrt welfare reform – I honestly *do* recognise the awfulness of warehousing generation after generation on the dole.  Otoh, how can *more* children growing up hungry be called a success?  Isn’t there another way of getting from Point A to Point B?

    Welfare reform strengthened families, empowered women, and got more parents working. My understanding is that child poverty fell after welfare reform passed; do you have contrary statistics on child hunger, or is this the same reflexive bigotry that assumes that the big government solution is superior elsewhere in family policy?

    I say this because it’s clear to me that, since the native French birth rate is dramatically lower than the US birth rate, the difference is not one of degree, with the French having bigger families. There is more than one way from A to B, but “concrete steps to help” only seem necessarily  better to those who do not understand their Bastiat.

  15. James Of England
    Zafar

    You do not believe it possible to honestly oppose SSM without anti-gay animus? · 24 minutes ago

    Of course it’s possible – it just seems very rare, and it certainly doesn’t seem to be the genuinely dominant voice for the position.  A lot of opposition seems to come from people who are deeply uncomfortable with homosexuality itself, and are ill at ease with gay people.  It comes across as either open hostility, or more often as smug glibness. · 39 minutes ago

    So, just to be clear, because a lot of opposition to SSM comes from homophobes, rather than feeling that it is important for defenders of traditional marriage to distance themselves from that homophobia, you object to the distancing?

    Do you believe, for instance, that Nanda Panjandrum is a homophobe? Do you see homophobic messaging as a dominant portion of the march’s messaging, or is it simply the case that you agree with the vile characterization that Nanda complains about; i.e. that the defense of traditional marriage is intrinsically homophobic. This goes beyond your claim that there are many homophobes in the movement to defend marriage.

  16. Duane Oyen

    I have always felt that there should be a legal domestic partnership option available as a matter of secular even-handedness.  Apart from covenant marriage, the PAC is about Caesar, not God, and we are thus rendering to Caesar as Jesus instructed us. 

    The issue with gay marriage is that adoptions should be first preferentially available to straight married couples, period- based on a long and solid set of research findings.  If gay marriage were equalized, then such preferences would be set aside as a matter of course as part of the quest for “normalcy” recognition as described by Leslie.

    Is there a slippery slope here?  Sure- just as with most tough public policy issues.  That doesn’t mean that we avoid them- the devil is always in the details, and we simply have to keep working.

  17. Zafar
    James Of England

    Welfare reform strengthened families, empowered women, and got more parents working. My understanding is that child poverty fell after welfare reform passed

    The reforms worked well when times were good, but when they went bad there was less of a safety net.

    http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/us_hunger_facts.htm

    From which:

    Three years after the onset of the financial and economic crisis, hunger remains high in the United States. The financial and economic crisis that erupted in 2008 caused a dramatic increase in hunger in the United States. This high level of hunger continues in 2010, according to the latest government report (with the most recent statistics) released in September 2011 (Coleman-Jensen 2011).

    • In 2010, 17.2 million households, 14.5 percent of households (approximately one in seven), were food insecure, the highest number ever recorded in the United States(Coleman-Jensen 2011, p. v.) …

  18. Zafar
    James Of England

    …you object to the distancing?

    1  Instead of ‘distancing’ yourself you might differentiate your social positions from homophobic, or anti-gay, ones. (They are not synonymous.  Someone can find homosexuality unacceptable for religious reasons without being personally squicked by gay people.)

    2  Honestly look at what SSM means for gay people, and what refusing to acknowledge it means *for* them.  You very kindly shared a link with me – interesting, thank you – so tell me, what are the *unintended* negative consequences for society of privileging heterosexual unions over homosexual unions? (Or heterosexuality over homosexuality – given that they both seem innate to individuals.) Are the negative consequences felt equally, or more in one section of society?  Why would they feel this is a good thing?  You can see it would be a hard sell to justify it to *them*, right?

    3 We are known by the company we keep.  If you don’t want to be linked to homophobes, don’t give them a platform, don’t accept their support even when convenient. How many ‘supporters of traditional marriage’ have you seen taking a more than token stand against antigay violence?

    4  I do not know Nanda.

  19. katievs
    Misthiocracy

    I dunno the answer regarding France, but the lack of a requirement for a “romantic” relationship is the big distinction between a “PAC” and a common law marriage. A “PAC” is an agreement between any two adults. I don’t believe they even need to be living together. 

    This is something I could get behind.  It accommodates the legitimate concerns of the gay lobby without any bogus moral equivalence and without degrading the unique natural institution of marriage.