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 ...