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Égalité was the slogan

France enacts a gay marriage law, after protests intended to wear down Hollande

On Tuesday the French parliament made its country the 14th in the world to accord the same legal protection to marriage between persons of the same sex as to that between heterosexuals, at the same time also awarding gay couples the right to adoption. This new step toward equality — égalité was the slogan chanted by the bill’s supporters when the result of the vote was announced — has been possible thanks to the firmness of the president of the Republic, François Hollande, and to the clear parliamentary majority of the left, which has kept its electoral promise in the face of an intense protest campaign in the form of marches and rallies. Recent weeks have seen a rash of attacks on homosexuals, from which the protest organizers have dissociated themselves.

The protest actions started among Catholic sectors and extreme right youth groups, and later attracted other forces. No one was surprised that the radical-right National Front jumped on the bandwagon, but some surprise was felt at the vigor shown by the principal force of the right, the UMP, weakened since the withdrawal of Nicolas Sarkozy. The party opposed the gay marriage law in parliament, the natural scene of political confrontation; but many of its members carried their opposition into the streets. Around 10 of its deputies took part in Sunday’s mass rally in Paris — though not its leader, Jean-François Copé — as well as a parliamentarian and other members of the National Front.

The movement has overtones of a neo-reactionary crusade, all the more striking in that France is Europe’s secular democracy par excellence, and a country that already boasts more than a century of separation between Church and state. But the ambitious scale of the movement against gay marriage has other driving forces. Another mass rally is planned for May 26, which aims to accentuate the attrition of the leftist government, exploiting the plunge in Hollande’s popularity due to the economic crisis, rising unemployment, and the discovery of accounts hidden from the revenue office held by the very minister entrusted with the struggle against tax evasion.

Politics apart, French society would in this case do well to look to that of Spain. Marriages between homosexuals have been accepted with total calm, and with no other problem than the seven years of legal insecurity experienced by the around 22,500 homosexual couples married between mid-2005, when the law promoted by Rodríguez Zapatero came into effect, and the end of 2012, when the Constitutional Court rejected the Popular Party’s appeal against the law. The right wing in France has also announced an appeal, but that country’s Constitutional Court has a time limit of only a month in which to issue a ruling.

It is high time for religious and political forces to recognize the fact that a free union between persons of the same sex does not affect the other forms of the family; and that, in a democracy, minorities have just as many rights as majorities.

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