For Yannick Gervais, a French computer engineer in his early 40s,
it is a dream come true.
Later this week, he and his longtime partner, Ren Varnier, will
present themselves at the town hall of Paris's 12th district, sign a
"civil solidarity pact," and become one of the first homosexual
couples in France to legalize their union.
After 21 years of living together, "at last we will have
society's recognition that we are a couple," he says. "Symbolically
this is going to mean a lot to us."
For conservative lawmaker Christine Boutin, their signature will
be another serious blow to an institution already under threat in
France: marriage. "This is obviously going to weaken the family,"
she says. "And it's only the beginning." In a country where 40
percent of children are born to unmarried couples, the question of
how to strengthen relationships and the fabric of society is an
The "civil solidary pact," known by its French acronym PACS,
became law last week, making France the first traditionally Catholic
country in the world to legalize homosexual unions. It is part of a
major shift in the way ordinary people, and the state, view
unmarried couples, especially homosexual ones.
After a stormy passage through parliament, often violent public
debate, and amid warnings from the Roman Catholic Church, the law
now extends to unmarried - but registered - couples some of the tax,
welfare, and inheritance rights that married couples enjoy.
It carries forward a trend across Europe, where governments have
been giving increasing legal recognition to unwed couples, same-sex
Three weeks ago in Britain, a homosexual man won a five-year
court battle to be treated as a "family member" linked to his
deceased partner. The House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament,
ruled that a "stable and permanent" relationship was sufficient to
confer family rights.
In the United States, no state recognizes homosexual marriage.
Thirty states have approved legislation barring the recognition of
such unions if they should become legal in another state, and five
states are considering similar laws.
For Mr. Gervais, the new French law means that "society
recognizes us in day-to-day life as fully fledged citizens. It's not
that much to ask - we pay our taxes, we do our civic duties just
like everyone else."
From now on, he hopes, a host of mundane but awkward problems
will disappear. He and his partner will be able to share joint auto
insurance, for example.
More important, they will be able to extend their social-
security coverage to each other, file joint tax returns, and leave
each other property in their wills on favorable tax terms. …