France's symbolic fight over same-sex marriage
June 7, 2013 9:24 AM   Subscribe

The French Right Marches against Gay Marriage. Last month, France became the thirteenth nation to recognize same-sex marriage. A large religious and political movement continues to protest loudly against the Socialist government's "Mariage Pour Tous" (Marriage For All) law.

From the start, opponents of the law used the well-worn political tactic of co-opting language, rallying around the name Manif Pour Tous (Demonstration For All). But the wrangling over words and symbols went much farther with the splinter group Printemps Français (French Spring). Slate.fr examines why the symbols of France's right-wing groups come from left-wing movements [link in French], including the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and the US Civil Rights movement. Political scientist Jean-Yves Camus notes:
In France, when you want to gain the support of the public, you use symbols from the left. If the fight ever moved toward the right and its symbols, it would risk two things: connections with homophobia, and with the Front National. The French Spring wants to acquire an image of moderation and non-conformism, and the first rule of the left is the demonstration. The people of the right do not have the same custom of taking to the streets to defend their rights...
French president François Hollande believes the opposition went too far [link in French] when it began calling for "resistance" and referring to the government and the press as "collaborators." On the 70th anniversary of the creation of the Conseil National de la Résistance, Hollande declared that, "The words still have a meaning... The Resistance was against Nazism, against the Occupation. The Collaboration were the French who were with the occupiers. And fascism, Nazism, dictatorship, are an era that is thankfully over."

Mark Leonard (writing for Reuters) wonders if the French right's mobilization around same-sex marriage is a sign of a shrinking political realm. "If no alternative is available on economic issues, politics will be reduced to symbolic battles about social issues."
posted by mbrubeck (44 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Mark Lean (writing for Reuters) wonders if the French right's mobilization around same-sex marriage is a sign of a shrinking political realm. "If no alternative is available on economic issues, politics will be reduced to symbolic battles about social issues."

That's kind of a silly thing to say, because they're obviously not the only ones pursuing a social agenda, the French left is too.
posted by Jahaza at 9:31 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Like the Tea Party in the United States, the French protest movement has a religious undertone.

This comparison is very strained. The French protest movement is much more explicitly religious than the Tea Party movement. While many of the participants in the Tea Party movement happen to be religious, this is not it's founding impulse, in the same way it is for the French protest movement against gay marriage.
posted by Jahaza at 9:35 AM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


OH MAN FRANCE SHOULD NOT HAVE PASSED A LAW TO REQUIRE EVERYONE TO GET GAY MARRIED

"That's kind of a silly thing to say, because they're obviously not the only ones pursuing a social agenda, the French left is too."

That's kind of a silly objection, as the comment isn't about how it's wrong to pursue a social agenda, but rather how it's a symbolic identity battle rather than a substantive economic one.

Also, way to go France! Liberté, égalité, fraternité!
posted by klangklangston at 9:36 AM on June 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


From the start, opponents of the law used the well-worn political tactic of co-opting language, rallying around the name Manif Pour Tous (Demonstration For All).

It disgusts me when bigots claim victimhood.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:37 AM on June 7, 2013 [16 favorites]


"It disgusts me when bigots claim victimhood."

Stabbed in the back.
posted by klangklangston at 9:40 AM on June 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


Just so.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:41 AM on June 7, 2013


I forget who it was, but some well known French cartoonist tried to create a Captain America style character for France and quickly stopped when it started to get co-oped by the far right.
posted by The Whelk at 9:42 AM on June 7, 2013


I am not sure I love the FPP linking to the La Manif Pour Tous website (under the "don't give bigots traffic" clause), but I was amused by the icon for the "No to Ideological Propaganda in Schools!" article which made me wonder if the MPT were against children being allowed to use the restrooms at school.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:42 AM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jahaza: Like the Tea Party in the United States, the French protest movement has a religious undertone.

This comparison is very strained. The French protest movement is much more explicitly religious than the Tea Party movement. While many of the participants in the Tea Party movement happen to be religious, this is not it's founding impulse, in the same way it is for the French protest movement against gay marriage.
Citation needed. Every Teabagger - oops, Tea Partier - I've known has been a hardcore Christian.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:42 AM on June 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


This comparison is very strained. The French protest movement is much more explicitly religious than the Tea Party movement. While many of the participants in the Tea Party movement happen to be religious, this is not it's founding impulse, in the same way it is for the French protest movement against gay marriage.

That's quibbling over "official" statements of purpose. There's pretty clear evidence that social conservatism was a primary motivator for the Tea Party from the beginning (emphasis mine):
Our analysis casts doubt on the Tea Party’s “origin story.” Early on, Tea Partiers were often described as nonpartisan political neophytes. Actually, the Tea Party’s supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born, and were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today.

What’s more, contrary to some accounts, the Tea Party is not a creature of the Great Recession. Many Americans have suffered in the last four years, but they are no more likely than anyone else to support the Tea Party. And while the public image of the Tea Party focuses on a desire to shrink government, concern over big government is hardly the only or even the most important predictor of Tea Party support among voters.

So what do Tea Partiers have in common? They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.

More important, they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006 — opposing abortion, for example — and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics. And Tea Partiers continue to hold these views: they seek “deeply religious” elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates. The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.

This inclination among the Tea Party faithful to mix religion and politics explains their support for Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. Their appeal to Tea Partiers lies less in what they say about the budget or taxes, and more in their overt use of religious language and imagery, including Mrs. Bachmann’s lengthy prayers at campaign stops and Mr. Perry’s prayer rally in Houston.

Yet it is precisely this infusion of religion into politics that most Americans increasingly oppose. While over the last five years Americans have become slightly more conservative economically, they have swung even further in opposition to mingling religion and politics. It thus makes sense that the Tea Party ranks alongside the Christian Right in unpopularity.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:43 AM on June 7, 2013 [22 favorites]


Also, French Right-Wing, wouldn't the best protest to same sex marriage be just not marrying someone of your own sex? I mean, I don't want to marry your husband; he has an absurd right-wing hairstyle and his conversation is boring, but I'll defend your right to marry him. Were I French, of course.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:45 AM on June 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


I always thought leather and jackboots were super gay. I wonder if the far right knows how fabulous they look.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 9:48 AM on June 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


One of the main figureheads of the Manif Pour Tous movement is a woman with the fantastically Bondesque pun of a moniker: "Frigide Barjot".
posted by the painkiller at 9:49 AM on June 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


the painkiller: "One of the main figureheads of the Manif Pour Tous movement is a woman with the fantastically Bondesque pun of a moniker: "Frigide Barjot"."

If there isn't a drag act in France using her name in protest, I do not understand anything about how the world works.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:51 AM on June 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


The French protest movement is much more explicitly religious than the Tea Party movement.

But like our Tea Party, the French movement has the same fascist brownshirts hanging at its fringes, if the marches are any indication. Add economic strife and you have more or less the same ingredients as another social movement from a neighboring country about 80 years ago.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:52 AM on June 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I always thought leather and jackboots were super gay. I wonder if the far right knows how fabulous they look.

Eroticizing the oppressor is creepy.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:53 AM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Clement Meric, a young French gay activist, was attacked a few days ago by right wing skinheads, and has died of his injuries.


Former leader of "Manif Pour Tous" says Meric wouldn't have been killed if France hadn't legalized same sex marriage.

Barjot has been trying to distance herself from the protests, claiming they've been infiltrated by the "Printemps Français" violent far-right, but it was Barjot herself a few weeks ago saying "Hollande wants blood, and he’s going to get it. Everyone is furious. We live in a dictatorship."
posted by dnash at 9:53 AM on June 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


If there isn't a drag act in France using her name in protest, I do not understand anything about how the world works.

Frankly, I'm not so sure she didn't steal it from a drag act in the first place as a sort of preemptive strike of irony...
posted by the painkiller at 9:54 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder if the far right knows how fabulous they look.

Sorry, too much depends on attitude and how you wear the outfit. The far right rarely looks fabulous as individuals and never in groups. It's kind of like the way that the Right can never really pull off comedy; they just come across as thugs picking on the helpless. Of course, this lack of verve and positive reinforcement just makes them more bitter and hateful.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:55 AM on June 7, 2013


Eroticizing the oppressor is creepy.

But as Hugo Boss found out, it's great for sales!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:57 AM on June 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Fascists have always gotten the best designer - NO LONGER
posted by The Whelk at 9:59 AM on June 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


"If no alternative is available on economic issues, politics will be reduced to symbolic battles about social issues."

Must be nice to live in a world where having the right to marry the person you love is "symbolic."
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:05 AM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


[Post is nominally about the situation in France, maybe let's not wander off completely to general discussion of the US Tea Party.]
posted by cortex at 10:08 AM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


But like our Tea Party, the French movement has the same fascist brownshirts hanging at its fringes, if the marches are any indication. Add economic strife and you have more or less the same ingredients as another social movement from a neighboring country about 80 years ago.
That's an incredibly strained analysis you have there.
posted by Jehan at 10:08 AM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Even Ms. Barjot warned families to stay away from the marches — her right-wing comrades were beating up photojournalists, if I remember rightly. Once you get the hate machine rev'ed up, it's easy for it to get out of control.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:18 AM on June 7, 2013


We (dudes) are currently planning to get married in France, and I must admit that I am troubled by all of this. The same way I know you can't judge the whole US by the Tea Party (or Texas by the "you can shoot a prostitute" decision; or New York by the rash of hate crimes they've experienced; or... or... or...), it's hard not to let myself worry that France is suddenly significantly more dangerous for us.

Skinheads beating a gay activist to death? It's such a far cry from all my previous experiences in France. And I guess I can't help but worry that we'll talk to a wedding venue, or a caterer, or the small town mayor who will have to do the official marriage, and we'll suddenly experience some form of this ourselves. We're not so big on public displays of affection, but last summer we did walk around holding hands in the Tuileries Garden. I just can't imagine us doing that this year.

I know this is temporary. It's just so disappointing.
posted by jph at 10:54 AM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Absolutely vile behaviour and co-option of language. Although well done France on passing this, you get bragging rights on this one, but we are getting there slowly.
posted by marienbad at 11:03 AM on June 7, 2013


a Captain America style character for France

Superdupont
posted by MartinWisse at 11:10 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The right can get all "oooh, they're oppressing my Catholicism" if the want to. The official policy of the Republic is one of laïcité. If kids can't wear the foulard in school, you don't get to say who can marry whom.




tried to create a Captain America style character for France and quickly stopped when it started to get co-oped by the far right.

Superdupont


Once again demonstrating how the right just doesn't get irony (see also "Born In The USA").
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:21 AM on June 7, 2013


a quoi ca sert l'amour?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:26 AM on June 7, 2013


I must admit complete surprise at how vehement the protests were against gay marriage in France. I am still surprised, especially since I have subscribed since my youth that the French (that's French-French, not French-Canadian) were just so much cooler and open-minded than we could ever be in the US.
posted by Kitteh at 11:41 AM on June 7, 2013


In France, when you want to gain the support of the public, you use symbols from the left.

Something in my eye here. Sounds like paradise.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 11:43 AM on June 7, 2013


People think of France as the land of revolution, liberalism and Parisian left-wing artists, but while that exists, there's always been the conservative part - most of it centered around Catholicism; many rural areas are quite conservative and even xenophobic. Anti-semitism, royalists, militarists, imperialists, fascists - the right has always been quite sordid, and very dangerous - see Vichy (and compare to Spain - falangists, Franco and the Catholic Church). What is happening today is another manifestation of those forces - the stated target is gay marriage, but it's really a broad attack on the socialists, an attempt to change French society from a right-wing agenda. And just as sordid as it has always been historically.
posted by VikingSword at 11:53 AM on June 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Am I correct in seeing this in the same spirit as the protests about the independence of Algeria and the destruction of the 4th republic? I tend to see France as VikingSword mentions, but then I think about De Gaulle and the fact that France has had five separate goes at being a republican (small r) nation. While I don't see this as nearly as worrying as say, the Golden Dawn, my thought of WTF is going on in southern Europe is slowly creeping northward.
posted by Hactar at 12:10 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It disgusts me when bigots claim victimhood.

Well, an interesting thread can arise here if you're discussing this type of thing with someone who is skilled at debating.

Basically, they are generally victims of something. Sure, every Reasonable Person™ agrees they're full of shit and need to get over it... But they are being subjected to something at the very least existing around them that they Do Not Want.

One of the few conclusions you can come to with this, which really needs to be embraced more readily by social justice types especially online, is that victimhood is not a get out of jail free card nor an automatic pass to the front of the line when it comes to being "right" in a situation.

This concept seems to get gummed up since the entire concept of victims/victim blaming among modern left/SJ types just brings up connotations of rape stuff and victim blaming therein, but seriously this shit is getting abused by these regressive assholes since they know that the people they're up against are uncomfortable with coming straight out and saying "You're hurt by this? too bad, your opinion doesn't matter" most of time.

Which is kinda sad, because that isn't some bad thing to be doing in this context. And it's certainly the type of thing they're willing to do, since they'll basically say anything that they think will get people to agree with them.
posted by emptythought at 2:22 PM on June 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Skinheads beating a gay activist to death?
Just for the record, Meric was not a gay activist. He was a left-wing activist (an antifa, for anti-fascist) and did participate in anti-homophobia actions but as far as we know he wasn't killed because his sexual orientation (which has not been reported in the press). It is true, however, that far-right groups have been energized by the recent anti gay marriage protests. Those groups used to be more or less affiliated to the National Front but Marine Le Pen's policy of shunning them set them loose. Also, Le Pen refused to participate in the protests while her own party supported them, which caused some head-scratching (and worse) in the far-right ranks. One theory is that she's trying to steer the National Front towards more inclusive ideological waters, because that's where the votes are. She's been relatively successful so far but many on the far-right (who loved her father's racist and antisemitic antics) won't have any of that.

One of the main figureheads of the Manif Pour Tous movement is a woman with the fantastically Bondesque pun of a moniker: "Frigide Barjot".

From Frigide Barjot, when she was a gay-friendly partygoer (that was before she met Jesus): Make love to me with 2 fingers, because 3 fingers won't fit.
posted by elgilito at 2:33 PM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am surprised that far-right historian (and former anti-De Gaulle terrorist) Dominique Venner's suicide in Notre Dame Cathedral in protest of the "marriage for all" law (as well as the "Islamization" of Europe and so forth) was not mentioned here on the blue earlier. Perhaps not to give him publicity?
posted by dhens at 9:24 PM on June 7, 2013


re: Dominique Venner's suicide.
posted by ts;dr at 6:22 AM on June 8, 2013


Yeah, seconding that it is important to recognize that Méric was not a gay activist, but a left-wing one. He was beaten, according to his aggressors (self-avowed skinheads with swastika tattoos on their faces), for making nasty remarks about fascism. It was not directly related to the legalization of gay marriage, although Méric did also participate against homophobia.

it's hard not to let myself worry that France is suddenly significantly more dangerous for us.

Unless you are caught in an anti-gay-marriage protest in Paris, you are likely to be just fine. I have several gay friends, some in Paris, and none have ever experienced physical violence themselves. They're in their 40s, all of them in established couples since their 20s, they go out regularly but aren't extraverted partiers. It does happen, though, and unfortunately, yes, it has worsened with the stupidity of anti-gay-marriage protests.

Like elgilito says, it has also spilled into far right racist discourse. Sarkozy had piqued it a bit with "French identity" when he was president, and it seems like that plus right-wing anger at Hollande for economic issues plus gay marriage has sparked off another round of particularly outspoken xenophobia here. I've mentioned it before, but I was naturalized a French citizen two years ago. At the time, Sarkozy was president; a few people in my professional entourage grumbled about me not actually being French, but most were happy. Ever since gay marriage has been part of the debate, however, all of a sudden, and really, it was quite out of left field, open xenophobia started coming my way. "You stole a job from a French person." "How DARE you have the right to vote in two different countries." "I bet it must be nice being able to vote without having to pay taxes in the States." (At least that misconception is easy to clear up... I still have to file my US taxes.) The one that most worries me, since I've heard it several times now where I never had in my 13 years here before: "you can't even speak French without an accent. You can't call yourself French, you don't know shit about our roots." (My accent is imperceptible; people usually think I'm from Nice, which has an accent resembling my own. Only people who already know I'm originally from the US make these remarks, which is part of the worrisomeness.)

Interestingly, there has not been an increase in casual homophobia that I've encountered. Everyone I work with has warmed to gay marriage, especially after Christiane Taubira's rousing defense of it. I don't know a single person who supports Barjot's crap; I know a lot of people who openly criticize her. But xenophobic discourse has become common... with Méric's death, the media are finally waking up to the part they've played with the "give voice to both sides" approach, and are saying they're going back to a more traditional-for-France stance of "racism is wrong". (It's very recent, so we'll have to wait and see if they keep their word.)

On the other hand, yes indeed, seeing religion trotted out and used as reasoning has been a mindfuck. France is proud, supposedly, of its laïcité. The protestors using religion as if it should have anything to do with goverment whatsoever, are fully aware of this tradition; everyone learns it in France, and it is constantly brought up in schools and the media. It is part of naturalization questions, it is part and parcel of the citizenship ceremony. Religion and government are supposed to be strictly separated (religious symbols are not allowed in public schools, i.e. government-run schools; not meaning to reopen debate on that, but as an example of how supposedly dedicated to, and aware of, this value French society is). Again, though, I simply don't see this in everyday life. It seems to be focused in Paris, and my friends there confirm it is indeed overt, but then they too have practically no personal acquaintances who admit to agreeing with it. It's very strange. Honestly, if I were to make an educated guess, it's a smokescreen for the far right. A shitty one indeed.
posted by fraula at 6:41 AM on June 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sounds like the right wing needs to sit down to some Freedom Fries and chill the fuck out.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 9:28 AM on June 8, 2013


I think you mean frites liberté.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:30 AM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The fact is that no matter how enlightened a society sees itself, there's always a significant part of the population that does not see it that way, and considers any sort of social progress as a threat. Being vocal in public about one's political opinions is less natural to the French than it is to Americans (no Sarkozy or Hollande lawn signs/bumper stickers here) and there are strict hate speech laws, so horrible crap tends to fly under the radar. It's out there, everyone knows it, it's been the bread and butter of the National Front for decades, but it could not go mainstream as long as it was packaged by Le Pen Sr.
The main culprit here is really Sarkozy, who kept opening this Pandora's box - the deadful "debate on National Identity", the "positive effects of colonisation", the hints at revisiting the church/state separation. He made certain types of ideas sound legitimate (basically the French version of the Overton window) in order to chase those elusive National Front voters. I'm cautiously optimistic that this won't change the underlying social trends. In fact, I suppose that the main reason for such kicking and screaming opposition to gay marriage is that protesters are painfully aware that such trends are unlikely to reverse. Even in right-wing circles, it was clear that the fight would be over once two men/women would be kissing in front of the town's mayor, and that undoing the "marriage for all" would be as feasible as reinstating the death penalty, recolonizing Algeria, recriminalizing abortion, or abolishing women's suffrage.
posted by elgilito at 10:33 AM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Clement Meric, a young French gay activist, was attacked a few days ago by right wing skinheads, and has died of his injuries.

Clement Meric killing: France 'to dissolve' far-right group. The French government is to take steps to break up a far-right group allegedly linked to the death of a left-wing activist.
posted by homunculus at 12:30 PM on June 8, 2013


Homoerotic anti-”gay marriage” protesters disrupt French Open finals
posted by homunculus at 4:15 PM on June 9, 2013


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