Little news of the gay marriage debate in the French National Assembly has made its way across the Atlantic into the American press. The lack of news coverage could be due to the perception that the outcome is not in doubt. The governing Socialist Party and their allies on the left hold a majority and have directed their members to vote in favor. Or France, being a very foreign country, the goings on way over there are of little concern to the American newspaper audience. Whatever the reason, the lack of interest is a shame as the debate has been informative, lively and fun to watch. And, some of the arguments being proffered have not been laid before the American public. Let me digress for a moment and bring you up to speed as to where things stand as of this post's publication.
The story so far -- Following last year's general election victory by the Socialist Party (PS) and its presidential candidate, François Hollande (I have shortened this from François Gérard Georges Nicolas Hollande), the party and its allies on the Left -- the Radicals, Communists, etc., began the legislative implementation of their campaign promise to legalize gay marriage and permit gay couples to adopt children. The right has fought the move while social conservative groups -- led by the Catholic Church -- have mounted a vigorous public protest campaign, culminating in the largest public demonstrations last month in France in the last 30 years.
In the National Assembly, the right, led by the UMP party, proposed 4999 amendments to the bill. After 24 marathon sessions spread over ten days, with many sittings lasting until the small hours of the morning, the National Assembly concluded debate on Friday and a formal vote is scheduled for Tuesday, 12 Feb 2013. The Senate will then take up the bill on 18 March.
Back to GetReligion -- When I say the debate has been fun, I mean that it has been vigorous and pointed to a degree seldom seen in the U.S. Americans fed upon the pap of MSNBC or Fox commentators might find the French political debate indigestible -- too spicy, too rich. Part of this lies in the stark polarization of French public life. In European eyes there is very little difference between the American Democrat and Republican Parties. While such an observation would baffle most Americans, from a French perspective the difference between the two American parties is miniscule compared to the spread of ideas between the Communists and the extreme Right in France.
And the place of religion in politics is very different in France -- some right-wing French groups are ultra-montane Catholics while others are atheists -- and there are Catholic Socialists on left (though no Catholic Communists I have found, though friends tell me a few of their seminary professors might qualify).
est un média impertinent de droite, radical (sans être extrême), et dans une France bâillonnée par le discours convenu de certaines élites, ça fait du bien !
is an impertinent radical right (though not extreme) publication, and with France gagged by the conventional chatter of its elites, its impertinence is a good thing.
has attacked gay marriage as racist.
Le mariage pour tous serait-il, à l’image du golf, un loisir réservé aux blancs et aux bourgeois ?
Will "marriage for all", like golf, be a hobby reserved for whites and the bourgeoise?
N.b., "Marriage for all" or "mariage pour tous" is the French equivalent of America's "marriage equality" -- a slogan of the left that seeks to drive the direction of the debate through packaging. But again I digress.
Calling "marriage for all" a liberal bourgeois preoccupation that is irrelevant to the lives of "les pauvres, les Noirs, les Arabes, les Asiatiques, les Juifs, les Latinos, les ouvriers et les chômeur"( it is more euphonious in French, but means, the poor, Blacks, Arabs, Asians, Jews, Latinos, and the unemployed), might be dismissed out of hand were it not for the revolt of the black (or should I say Franco-African) Socialist deputies from the Caribbean and Réunion who have broken with the PS and will vote no. The center-left Paris daily Libération reports that none of the black overseas members of the GDR (gauche démocrate et républicaine) of the Front de gauche (Left Front) will support the bill.
Libération cites a speech given to the National Assembly by Bruno-Nestor Azerot, a deputy from Martinique who said in overseas departments, almost all of our population is opposed to this project that "challenges all the customs, all the values" of French citizens. M. Azerot added that it was offensive to link the civil rights movement with the gay rights movement, noting in particular that black slaves could not marry or raise families recognized as legitimate by the state. Marriage for all, he argued would undermine the family and devalue the hard won social and legal rights of France's former slave populations.
A white PS leader from Réunion (a French overseas department in the Indian Ocean) Jean-Claude Fruteau told Libération he had not received any "negative reaction" from his constituency but added that a demonstration in Saint-Denis-de-la-Réunion organized by the Catholic bishop of the island should not be taken as a sign of the strength of the opposition to the bill. Réunion was a "small department where the Catholic Church has a strong influence," he said.
Libération explained to its readers why overseas Black deputies would opposed gay marriage by quoting the chairman of the Left Front Group in the National Assembly, Communist Deputy André Chassaigne. In overseas territories, i.e., in departments with a majority black population, the "cultural dimension of family values may be more pronounced, it has a more traditional look." The overseas deputies were invoking a "family model that was more conservative than in France," but were "imposing religious practices" and "local circumstances" onto the French national stage.
The Libération article is written from an advocacy perspective -- it makes no pretense at being balanced or offering opposing commentary. It quotes the speeches of the black deputies, but offers explanation and interpretation only from the left. The article is framed in such a way to help the newspaper's liberal readers understand the puzzling phenomena of why blacks, whose rights the Left has always championed, would not return this support on the issue of gay marriage.
Frankly, I would not have expected Libération to have addressed the issue any other way. French newspapers have different standards than American ones. Criticizing Libération for being something that it is not is a pointless exercise, though pointing out its biases to those unaware of the differences between American and European journalism is a necessary task.
My colleagues and I at GetReligion have written hundreds of articles detailing the creeping Europeanization of the American press -- where the New York Times and other prominent media outlets engage in advocacy journalism. But unlike the French or British press, they do not admit to their biases. While I would not hold out the European model as the ideal, its unashamed partisanship does allow for a discussion of issues that would never be countenanced in the American press -- gay marriage, race (and golf) is one such subject.