Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Right and la Loi Taubira

The UMP is in a tizzy about gay marriage, medically assisted pregnancies, and surrogate mothers. The linking of these three issues may seem strange in American eyes, but that is because our right wing has abortion as its hobby horse, whereas the French Right, thanks to the centrist Simone Veil, made its peace with abortion long ago, considers its tolerance a mark of enlightenment and progress, and is not about to reopen the issue. But since it is useful to a political party to "increase the dimensionality of the political choice set," as political scientists (some of whom are my best friends) like to say, we have this potpourri of hot-button issues surprisingly in the forefront of the UMP party leadership race. After all, it would hardly do to get exercised about corruption at the very heart of the party (the Bygmalion scandal has already taken down the former leader J.-F. Copé and threatens to take down the once and future leader N. Sarkozy as well), so it makes much more sense to argue about who can appear to be most vicious on the sexuality-and-reproduction front.

It's a bit of a shock to those of us who thought that France was beyond all this nonsense. The opposition to gay marriage came out of nowhere. Hollande no doubt thought it was safe ground to venture onto compared with budget cutting, tax hikes, and labor market reforms. But somehow a "Christian" right, hitherto politically dormant, emerged out of nowhere, and young people who had previously marched in the streets only on the way to their first communions suddenly appeared in parades of the bon chic bon genre led by one Frigide Barjot, who was anything but chic and not of the usual genre. The extreme right chimed in with an attack on "the theory of gender," which was supposedly being foisted on French schoolchildren to turn them all into transgendered zombies, and a bridge was established between Français de souche and anxious Muslim mothers via Farida Belghoul.

Hence striking a pose on these issues has become an essential order of business for any right-wing politician, and as usual, the most striking pose was struck yesterday by Nicolas Sarkozy, who outdid himself in impassioned ambiguity. He promised, in stentorian tones, to "rewrite the loi Taubira"--or did he say he would "abrogate" it? Well, actually, he said both and refused to distinguish between the two: "rewriting," he said, meant "abrogating the old law and writing a new one." Well, did that mean no more gay marriage? Did it mean unmarrying gays already married, which Bruno Le Maire said would be "unthinkable" and Alain Juppé advanced as a reason why it was impossible to abrogate the loi Taubira? He didn't actually say he would get rid of gay marriage, but he didn't have to, because he already had the crowd on his side, while the same crowd jeered Bruno Le Maire when he said that "we of the republican right will not revisit the issue of gay marriage." When you pare away the posturing, Sarkozy said the same thing, even if he said there would be one "marriage" for homosexuals and another "marriage" for gays, because, after all, "there is a difference." Exactly how this difference would affect the issue of "filiation," to which the French attach a great deal of importance because of the way jus sanguinis is peculiarly woven into the legal codes of inheritance and citizenship, Sarkozy didn't say, leaving him plenty of wiggle room should he, by some special pardon of a perverse Etre Suprême or Haute Cour de la République, return to the presidency.

In short, the loi Taubira has opened a can of worms on which the UMP is desperately trying to feast. Unappetizing though it may be, it is certainly more digestible than the numerous more urgent issues it faces. Being tough on gays and surrogate moms seems to be the Right's menu du jour, and they're trying to pretend to enjoy it so that no one will ask what they intend to do about unemployment or the deficit or Ukraine or the sale of the Mistral to Russia or taxes or ...


Anonymous said...

I still bear the scars of the American culture wars and I, too, thought I had escaped that silly waste of time by moving to France. And now here we go again: right wing identity politics, the dangers of gender theory, the merits of multiculturalism. The vielle France sleeper has awoken.

Hot on the heels of DSK, which was to me a bit like France's Anita Hill moment (a teaching moment on the existence of sexual harassment), I feel like I'm living in bizarro world. The mainstream right wing here is moving onto the cultural terrain. For those of you who have been in France longer than my paltry nine years, is this new? Or just the latest version?

Glad to see you posting on this, it's been troubling me since the Manif pour tous.

Anonymous said...

This is new.
Until now, the Right attacked muslims/immigrants/arabs (under various forms, from the more to the less explicit).

It is also puzzling, as if they didn't have something else - as Art rightly points out...
But puzzling because the manif pour tous people were loud, but overall the issue is NOT gay mariage. For some reason, many protesters were protesting the fact children adopted (or already born) to gay unions would be recognized, and thus their parents "recognized" as valid parents.
This is puzzling since there have been studies that show children raised by a gay couple don't suffer tremendous trauma or don't grow up "ill" or fragilized or badly affected by the experience. In addition, some European countries have allowed gays to adopt their partner's child for a while now (the UK for 10 years or so) and there haven't been any specific problems that we know of.

Note that Sarkozy says there'd be a "heterosexual mariage" and a "gay mariage", which makes little sense legally but seems to appeal to his constituency, indicating that they don't want to bar gays from marrying, just from calling it what is is...

Anonymous said...

The Manif pour tous demonstrations were quite legitimate insofar as they were & are the expression of a different concept of what constitutes marriage, family and parenting. Arguments were and are articulated because there are competing visions of the good and of morality. That is a healthy thing for a democracy and it is not to be bemoaned or regretted.
Indeed, gay marriage, GPA and adoption by Lesbian/Gay couples are the innovations and, if I'm not mistaken, the onus lies on those who want to change the old ways to justify themselves and why they want to change the old ways.

I think the tenor and force of the Manif pour tous are partly owing to the demographic background of a good lot of the demonstrators many of whom are educated and come from stable, if not comfortably wealthy, households for whom the multi-generational nuclear family is the model. Which is also to say that they generally have a good dose of self-confidence in themselves, intellectually and culturally speaking, and in the culture and mores they wish to pass on to their children. They don't feel they need to take their cues as to what constitutes right & wrong from the cultural Left and progressives.

Many American liberals and French Leftists have the utmost difficulty wrapping their brains around the social & cultural phenomenon represented by the Manif pour tous because, for them, those who oppose the liberal/progressive cultural agenda of ever more personal and sexual liberty can only but be irrational hatemongering homophobes of the Jean-Marie Le Pen ilk.
Hervé Mariton, for instance, opposes gay marriage with arguments one can engage and debate with. He's as level-headed and intelligent as Ross Douthat, the conservative NYT columnist.
(One perhaps need not mention the opposition to GPA expressed by some intellectuals on the Left, like Sylvia Aganciski)
Its a very interesting and healthy debate and I invite everyone to get beyond one's prejudices and presumptiousness because, compared to the culture war circus that goes on State-side, the French debate raises the bar quite high in terms of intellectual quotient.
By having one's position challenged, one will, at the very least, have a better idea as to why one defends/rejects gay marriage & GPA. But I'm sure we all knew that already.

Anonymous said...


Isn't that precisely what the parliamentary debate leading up to passing the loi Taubira was?

So the Manif pour tous is just well-educated bourgeois who want to propose "a different model"? This reminds me a lot of the right wing American discourse of "family values," which is a screen for "right wing Christian values." People don't get out of the house and form political movements because they're just trying to propose an alternative, no offense to the others. They're trying to deny rights to a class of people who were just granted them. There is nothing innocent about this movement. Even when it comes out of the mouths of "well educated people from nice families," it is the very definition of activist homophobia. That should not be too hard to understand.

I've followed the debate and have yet to see a high intellectual quotient. I see reactionaries reacting.

Anonymous said...

(Excuse me it looks like the quote from a previous comment that I was trying to open mine with was not copied. I was referring to fellow Anon's point that the onus is on those presenting the new option to make the case. My reply is, that's what deputies and Senate did when they debated and passed the law.)

DavidinParis said...

First off, you have coined a great line in this posting by stating : "...the most striking pose was struck yesterday by Nicolas Sarkozy, who outdid himself in impassioned ambiguity...". Secondly, it would appear that the French Right have taken their cue from the Tea Party to avert an examination of politics that actually count for something. And just wait, at this rate, abortion will come back to the table.
Oh yes, happy birthday.

Anonymous said...

Given the parlous state of the economy and the appalling levels of unemployment, especially youth unemployment, most voters surely, would have been right to expect their newly elected president to get down and dirty and deal with such critical issues as the top priority?

Well he waffled, dithered and backtracked plenty and then wasted time and energy on low priority but highly divisive same-sex legislation just to please a small minority. Under existing legislation at the time, said minority already had all the same rights as those in a traditional marriage except for calling it ‘marriage’.

The French are quite right to denounce their "progressive" politicians as abject losers. Their failure to deliver solutions, is leaving the next generation without hope or a future, and paving a golden highway for Marine le Pen.(FNOL)

Anonymous said...

The matter isn't "rigts OR the economy". Those aren't mutually exclusive. Fact is, the Hollande government succeeded in passing this law, after months of parliamentary debate.
There's no going back - you can't undo the mariages already performed and the people opposed are really very very small (if vocal) majority. Most people under age 24 don't even understand what the fuss is about (they can't wrap their brain around the idea of homosexuality as "wrong").

Anonymous said...

NKM said the opposite today. UMP is not going to split on this.
Fact is, even Sarko is not totally against gay mariage - just against the name, which of course means unequal or hypocritical (either it's the same, with the same duties and rights - which PACS did NOT provide- and it's hypocritical to call it differently; or it's a different word for something that doesn't involve the same duties and rights, and in this case, it's unequal, and it's very hard going from a law for more equality to a law for inequality.)

Anyway... funny take:

Anonymous said...

it would appear that the French Right have taken their cue from the Tea Party to avert an examination of politics that actually count for something...

Interesting mention of how France might be absorbing some American political tendencies. It has been noted that there appears to be the same thing happening on the left, such as the attempt to impose Gender Theory on schoolchildren. As one commenter at the time pointed out: "The impulse against this appears to me to go beyond the mere attempt to tear down traditional ideas of male/female. The French are getting a taste of American-style identity politics, and many of them don't like it one bit."

Below are the musings of someone who was at the Manif Pour Tous demonstrations, and his observations of how different political protest, and politics in general, are from America:

My fiancee and I, who live in New York City, were taken aback by the utter lack of hostility shown to the demonstrators. Dozens of families walked through seemingly liberal parts of Paris with massive pink and blue Manif pour Tous signs with pro traditional marriage slogans and no one expressed any shock or outrage. I suspect the reactions of bystanders would be much more hostile if such a march took place in NYC or another major U.S. city. Also, the demonstrators did not seem to be backward country bumpkins descending upon the city. Instead most of them appeared indistinguishable from the sophisticated, urbane Parisian stereotype.

So, what conclusions can I draw from this experience (and my many other visits to France, during which I have spent a lot of time with French Catholics)? (and I understand these are big generalizations)

First, social conservatism does not provoke the same amount of knee-jerk outrage among social liberals in France as it does in the United States. For the past 225 years French liberals have had to cope with a sizeable minority of committed conservatives which is a fixture of French society. The committed French Catholics survived serious persecutions–they aren’t going to surrender if the liberals start calling them “bigots”.

Second, social conservatives in France have more cultural prestige than they do in the United States. French Catholics are associated with the ancien regime–and all the great achievements that went along with it (even if most Manif pour Tous demonstrators are republicans). French liberals might not like the ancien regime (and Catholicism) but they can’t denigrate it as cultural inferior or unsophisticated (the way American liberal look down upon rural Evangelicals).

Third, French Catholics tend to be more orthodox than American Catholics. For a long time in France there has been no social pressure to seem religious, so those who actually attend mass (which isn’t a completely insignificant number) tend to be more traditional-minded.

Fourth, the French tend not to believe in an irresistible progressive march of history to the same extent as Americans. France’s history of revolutions and counter-revolutions make it clear that it is never futile to oppose change. In contrast there is an attitude in America that society will (and must) always become more liberal and social conservatives are necessarily fighting a losing battle.

Fifth, because there is more political diversity in France there seems to be more tolerance for opposing viewpoints. In France there are real communists living side-by-side with real monarchists (of which there are Legitimists, Orleanists, and Bonapartists), not to mention Greens, Fascists, Socialists, libertarians, etc.). Because the binary of acceptable political beliefs is less entrenched, people feel less pressure to conform and aren’t afraid to demonstrate in favor of a cause they support (like the Manif pour Tous) even if expresses a minority or non-mainstream view.

DavidinParis said...

Alas, how this tourist has seen this manif through rose colored glasses! Too bad they did not have the pleasure to see the day or rage...that was a real display of tolerance...not.

Anonymous said...

those were very well-informed tourists then, since the nuances between monarchists, legitimists, orleanists, and bonapartists, is probably unclear to 99.8% people in Paris, tourists or not.

Anonymous said...

BTW, the fact "gender theory" and "school children" is in the same sentence indicates how little that poster understands of the words he types. Replace "gender theory" with "structuralism", "theoretical physics", "quantitative history" and you'll understand why this is a completely ridiculous assertion - unless French primary schools have turned into graduate schools suddenly, and 8 year olds read philosophy... O_O