Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

France Torn over Gay Marriage ; Campaign Promise Hits Wall of Resistance When Parenting Enters Debate

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

France Torn over Gay Marriage ; Campaign Promise Hits Wall of Resistance When Parenting Enters Debate

Article excerpt

Legalizing gay marriage -- "marriage for all" -- was a campaign promise by President Francois Hollande, a Socialist, but it has proven tricky and divisive.

Frigide Barjot has made a career of mocking the establishment of France, dressing in fluorescent pink sweaters, playing in a band called the Dead Pompidous and hosting a philosophy soiree at which she handed out T-shirts with the logo, "Kierkegaard is my homeboy."

But Ms. Barjot, born Virginie Merle 50 years ago, has also rediscovered her religious roots, writing a book called "Confessions of a Trendy Catholic." And she has become one of the main actors and voices in France's fierce debate over gay marriage, adoption rights and state financing for procreation assistance. It is a debate as sincere and confused, in a way, as Ms. Barjot's own involvement.

Despite her love of mockery and her support for the rights of gay couples, she is strongly opposed to gay marriage, and especially to the part of a proposed law that would allow married gay couples to adopt children and be recognized as their parents. On Sunday, she is to help lead a large demonstration called "La Manif Pour Tous," or a demonstration for everyone, a follow-up to an initial protest in November.

Legalizing gay marriage -- "marriage for all" -- was a campaign promise by President Francois Hollande, a Socialist, but it has proved tricky and divisive in France, which is a secular republic but remains an essentially Roman Catholic country where few go to church. He promised to enact it within a year of taking office last May, and his draft bill will go before Parliament for debate by the end of this month.

Same-sex marriages are now performed in about a dozen countries and at least 9 of the 50 U.S. states, while it is constitutionally banned in others. But gay marriage was not a big issue in the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign, and there are a number of cases about its legality before the Supreme Court.

In France, religious leaders have become deeply involved, arguing that the government should be cautious before redefining the institution of marriage and legal "parenthood." The chief rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has cautioned about toying with the idea that gender has become "a social role that we choose for ourselves," instead of "a given element of nature that man has to accept."

Pope Benedict XVI cited Rabbi Bernheim in a Christmas address opposing gay marriage, saying that it was wrong for people "to deny their nature and decide it is not something previously given to them, but that they make themselves." He drew a parallel between those who deplore "the manipulation of nature" where "our environment is concerned," but sanction it as "man's fundamental choice where he himself is concerned."

The intervention of religious leaders in opposition, including Muslims, has caused something of an uproar, especially among supporters of the Socialist government. The minister in charge of education, Vincent Peillon, has even warned parochial schools against having debates in classrooms about the merits of gay marriage and adoption, citing a threat to French secularism, bringing charges of Catholic-bashing.

"To make a child, you need a man and a woman," Ms. Barjot said. For a gay couple to become the legal parents of a child "is totally contrary to reality," she said.

She is quite happy for gay couples to have official status and legal protections. "The problem is not homosexuality, but human filiation," she argues -- a child's need to have legal affiliation and access to its biological parents.

Mr. Hollande and his government say that they were elected on a clear platform and will pass the "marriage for all" law, and that the legislature, not the street, will decide. …

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