France Celebrates First Same-Sex Marriage, But Not Everyone Is Happy

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Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon speaks with French sociologist Michel Wievorka about the wave of popular opposition in France to gay marriage. This past week, for the first time under the new law allowing gay marriage, two men wed in the city of Montpellier.


And to try to help us understand the intensity of opposition to gay marriage in France, we're joined by sociologist Michel Wieviorka. Mr. Wieviorka, thanks very much for being with us.

MICHEL WIEVIORKA: It's a pleasure.

SIMON: What do you make of the fact that the wave of protests against same-sex marriage in France has seemed to be much more intense than it's been in Great Britain or even Spain?

WIEVIORKA: Well, at the very beginning of the political process, the government made a very, very big mistake. Instead of introducing a proposal for a law just dealing with homosexuals being able to be married, the government produced a proposal, including the word marriage - first of all - but also the idea of medical appropriation. Then you have a second explanation, which is highly political. The right has been defeated with Sarkozy one year ago. They don't have a real leadership. They are fighting. And the debate was for the right-wing in France a possibility to find a new health, if I can say it like that.

SIMON: How do you explain the fact that 42 percent - according to the polls - of President Hollande's own socialists are opposed to gay marriage?

WIEVIORKA: Well, I am surprised by this figure, first of all, but I would not say that they are opposed to this marriage. If you look at other polls, they say that Francois Hollande has more than 70 percent of the people that don't like him today. And now I must introduce other elements in the analysis. I must introduce cultural elements. France is a country where traditions are strong. The idea of the classical family is strong. And in the context of economic crisis, this kind of cultural values are very strong. So, maybe this is also having some influence on the left.

SIMON: We should note, of course, I mean, in the United States we certainly think of France as a society that tends to be - if I might say this respectfully - just more casual about that kind of stuff. A lot of people don't in fact even get married on principle, although that's increasingly true in the United States too. Have you been surprised by the depth of reaction?

WIEVIORKA: I was not surprised because it is not the first time that in the recent history of France we have a big protest a law that pressures with education, family and so on. In 1984, Francois Mitterrand, he wanted to introduce a new law on education. The popular reaction to this was huge. Nobody could imagine before that there could be such a big protest in the streets. What is also clear, it is that the main issue is adoption and medical help to procreation.

SIMON: So, there are people on the left and right who are uncomfortable with gays adopting and with gays receiving in vitro fertilization assistance to begin a family.

WIEVIORKA: Most people will agree on homosexuals being able to live together and to be married. The real debate is should homosexuals adopt children or not. Should homosexuals make children or not? This is what has made stronger the position of the people that were against this law.

SIMON: Michel Wieviorka is a sociologist at the School of Higher Studies and the Social Sciences in Paris. Thanks very much for being with us.

WIEVIORKA: You're welcome.

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