French Marriage Lessons

Madame La Guillotine: ic by Der Vollstrecker

Once upon a time the French did things a bit better than other people. French markets, food, restaurants, fashion, even modern politics, after a fashion: the ideas of liberty, equality and brotherhood that supposedly form the bedrock of modern democracy come from France.

Of course, the French arrived at the aforementioned values via an extremely bloody and prolonged revolution, which irrevocably divided them into traditionalists and progressives, both with a taste for taking their arguments to the streets.

Somewhere deep in their psyche, all French people harbour the unshakeable conviction that you can get your way by taking to the streets and bashing your opponents into submission. When politics doesn’t deliver what you want, in France, there is always La Revolution. And the revolution never ends.

Don’t forget the French National Anthem, the Marseillaise, was originally War Song for the Army of the Rhine, with blood-sodden verses about coming to murder your sons and water the fields with their impure blood etc. Which is presumably why the Brisbane (née Fitzroy) Lions stole the tune for their club song.

So, unlike the homeland of our own dear Queen (where the issue is equally as divisive and contentious), France has been re-enacting the revolution yet again, this time over marriage.

This sort of politics – conducted with the aid of tear gas, baton charges and men dressed like extras from a chic French hommage to Star Wars – is supposed to produce a definitive outcome. We win – you lose. But years of Euro membership seem to have infected the French with that fatal British disease: compromise.

As a result, so-called “Marriage For All” isn’t quite. Compromises intended to damp down the mob violence in the streets, are instead feeding and prolonging it.

As The Guardian points out, as well as excluding intersex people, “the law [does] not  . . .  allow medically assisted procreation or IVF. This  . . .  leaves a stark inequality between gay and straight couples which has infuriated many on the left.” 

To gain parental rights, pre-existing gay couples, including those who entered into a ‘civil solidarity pact’, must marry and then adopt their children. The non-birth mother or non-donor father does not automatically assume parental rights just by marrying. But as the same applies to genetically unrelated heterosexual partners, this is arguably still equality, although some disagree.

Most LGBTI, however, are happy to take what they’ve got, at least for the moment, and argue for the rest later. But it still means they are not-quite-equal. And that means this is not yet over.

Unfortunately these relatively minor exclusions, meant to mollify opponents, have also kept the opposition alive. Winning some concessions has only encouraged them. “La lutte continue” – the struggle goes on, with more anti-gay demos, appeals to the Constitutional Council . . . . . these people won’t acknowledge that they’ve lost.

And the longer it goes on, the more divisive it could become, the more entrenched the hatred and violence directed against gays and lesbians, the more remote the chance that France will accept equal marriage with one of those cryptic Gallic shrugs, and move on.

If, as seems likely, the Australian path to equality will more closely resemble the French model than the Kiwi – after all, we too are cursed with a feral Catholic church desperate to get people’s attention off their own crimes – there are lessons here for local equality campaigners, and whichever government finally passes marriage equality, sometime in the near year or so.

Do it right the first time. Do not be stampeded into compromises by mobs in the streets. Don’t leave loose ends to be tidied up later, for the sake of short-term political expediency. Don’t try to pass something off as”equal marriage”, when it’s really “marriage – but . . . .” Opponents of equal marriage will only keep pulling on those loose ends in an attempt to unravel the whole package.

Remember what the French seem to have forgotten. Equality is not divisible. And nor is marriage.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)