LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
In France, the debate over same-sex marriage and adoption is becoming more and more intense. And now, President Francois Hollande is following through on a campaign promise to bring full rights to gay couples, who currently must go abroad to marry or adopt. But opposition to the measure has been unexpectedly fierce, something the socialist government was not expecting. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley sends this report.
PROTESTERS: (Chanting in French)
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Thousands of supporters of same-sex marriage took to the streets in Paris last weekend in support of the government's plans to legalize marriage and adoption for gay couples. But they were playing catch-up.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (French spoken)
BEARDSLEY: Anti-same-sex marriage groups staged several large demonstrations across France in October and November attracting tens of thousands of people. The new measure has highlighted the divide between urban and rural France. But rarely do demonstrators wave signs with Bible verses. It's not about religion, at least not on the surface, says Gilles Wullus, editor in chief of Tetu, a magazine for homosexuals.
GILLES WULLUS: There is a kind of taboo in France for using religion in the political debate. That's French history, French revolution, etc. So, even for the conservatives it's very delicate to use religious beliefs. But that doesn't mean that religion is out of the minds of these people.
BEARDSLEY: But in a rare move, and to the surprise of many, the French Catholic Church has become involved in the debate. Since the separation of church and state in France more than a century ago, the church rarely injects itself into political and societal matters.
MONSIGNOR ANDRE VINGTTROIS: (French spoken)
BEARDSLEY: But this time the archbishop of Paris, Monsignor Andre Vingttrois spoke out on TV and radio, saying that society was threatened by such changes in the family structure. Many believe the Vatican is behind the church's rare outspokenness because France is a large and strategic Catholic country. Other Catholic countries in Europe, such as Belgium and Spain, have already legalized gay marriage and adoption. One reason France lags behind is that it was the first European country to adopt civil unions for gay couples in 1999, reducing some of the urgency for gay marriage. Opposition to the new measure seems mainly centered around children. Parisian Eric Robin voices a typical viewpoint.
ERIC ROBIN: (Through Translator) I think gay couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples, like in matters of inheritance. After all, they pay taxes too. But then I draw the line. I think a child needs a father and a mother. This could open a Pandora's Box.
BEARDSLEY: Editor Wullus says the declining status of marriage is another reason the opposition is centered on children.
WULLUS: Marriage, not a big institution in France. Most couples are not married. They have civil union or nothing. Marriage is not very well considered here except in the bourgeois families, etc.
BEARDSLEY: The absence of a religious tone to the French protests seems strange to someone used to the Bible-centric American opposition to gay marriage. Recently, in the city of Lyon, hundreds of people acted out a scene with a person dressed in a butterfly suit, with one wing that said papa, and the other maman. As the newly hatched butterfly staggered to walk and stretch its wings, hundreds of men and women seated on the sidewalk on different sides of the creature reached out to prop him up, alternately screaming mama, papa.
CROWD: Papa, mama, papa, mama.
BEARDSLEY: The message was clear: a child needs both parents to fully develop. But the scene was more than bizarre. The French government, caught off-guard by the strength of the opposition, has bungled things. After an outcry from a group of rural mayors who said they didn't want to marry same-sex couples, President Hollande said they could call in their deputies to do it. Hollande had to backtrack amidst an uproar over whether people would now be able to choose the laws they wished to obey. The bill legalizing gay marriage and adoption will go before parliament this spring and is expected to become law by June, just ahead of Paris's annual gay pride parade. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.
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