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Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - Page updated at 05:30 a.m.
Protests not expected to halt gay-marriage bill in France
By SCOTT SAYARESTEVEN ERLANGER
The New York Times
PARIS — On Tuesday afternoon, France is expected to become the 14th country to legalize marriage for all couples, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
The final vote in the legislature is expected to be quick, since the socialist government of President François Hollande has a safe voting majority.
But there has been an intensification of opposition to the bill in the past few weeks, as Hollande’s critics have used demonstrations against it as a way of attacking the president himself.
Though hesitant at first, since polls show a majority of the French favor equal rights for same-sex couples, the center-right Union for a Popular Movement has embraced the demonstrations opposing the bill.
The unity around the issue has helped paper over the sharp divisions and rivalries in the party, which is largely rudderless as its leader, former President Nicolas Sarkozy, weighs returning to active politics.
The demonstrations have also become more violent and homophobic, with a series of nightly demonstrations last week around Parliament that resulted in clashes with riot-police officers and a number of arrests.
Even opposition leaders have bemoaned the way harder-right groups have infiltrated the demonstrations, and there has been a small surge in violence against gay men and lesbians, with some beatings and angry, offensive words on social media.
Some protesters against gay marriage have started calling their movement “the French spring,” and many demonstrators are tying their actions to a generalized anger at Hollande, whose ratings in the polls continue to fall below previous record lows in a period of economic stagnation and growing unemployment.
And there were mild scuffles last week in the National Assembly as an ill-tempered debate on the second reading of the bill finally concluded.
Hollande and his government have pressed ahead with the bill and condemned homophobia and violence, but the sometimes ugly tone of the protests has prompted the government to accelerate the vote to Tuesday, to get the bill passed and out of the way. Presidential aides say they want the matter finished before another large demonstration planned for this month, though opponents say they will continue to protest in May.
On Sunday, demonstrations in Paris passed peacefully, with 45,000 protesters marching against the bill, according to police figures, and about 3,500 supporters of the legislation conducting their own rally, in part to protest homophobia.
“Those who are for more equality must also make themselves heard,” said Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who is gay.
Foes shouted slogans against Hollande and wrapped themselves in the red, white and blue of the French flag.
Some carried children or pushed baby carriages under a slogan that read, “All born of a mom and dad.”
Opposition leaders condemned any targeting of homosexuals. The numbers on Sunday were down considerably from the 300,000 who marched last month.
In general, politics has come to overshadow the moral and religious questions around the bill, which Roman Catholic, Muslim and Jewish leaders oppose.
The bill promises “marriage for all” and more contentiously, polls show, would legalize adoption by same-sex couples.
The bill does not mandate state aid for artificial insemination or other assistance in procreation for same-sex married couples, however, which many French oppose. Such a bill may be proposed separately.
Pierre Brechon, a political scientist at Sciences Po, Grenoble, also known as the Grenoble Institute of Political Studies, sees a gradual change in French attitudes toward personal and sexual rights and freedoms, with the values of the fiercely secular republic arguing for equal rights for all and open to “new forms of family life.”
Young people in France, as in the United States, he said, see marriage as “a fundamental right” for same-sex couples as well as straight ones, while older people are “more marked by Catholicism and remain more traditional” in their views of marriage as an institution that binds men and women and protects children.
Brechon argued that France had moved further in the last 30 years than other European countries to recognize the rights of gay men and lesbians, and that opinion polls showed the society had moved faster than politicians or the law.
Since 1999, France has had a form of civil union, a civil solidarity pact, which gives couples some rights and protections but falls short of marriage.