The issue of "marriage for all" is proving contentious in France, with large demonstrations against the idea backed by the Catholic Church and the right-wing opposition party. Those in favor say they aren't rattled.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Paris this weekend to protest against plans to give gay couples the right to marry - and to adopt or conceive children. The images of crowds converging on the Eiffel Tower to protest against gay marriage were a contrast to the large and colorful parades in support of gay rights that have become a familiar sight in many European cities.
The protesters carried placards reading "un pere, une mere, c'est elementaire" ("one father, one mother, it's fundamental") and "no to unisex marriage."
"One of the main reasons why the people against gay marriage are succeeding," said Romain Burrel, who writes for the French gay lifestyle magazine Tetu, "is that the debate has morphed into something bigger."
"We're not talking just about whether two people should get engaged to one another; we're talking about whether those couples should raise children."
Burrel said it was distressing to watch 340,000 people take to the streets in protest of something "that you think is right for you." But at the same time, he added, "we know that France is a very Catholic country [and] that the church has been really against this right from the beginning."
"Of course," he says, "when you put the debate forward about children, most people think, 'well, I'm not sure, a child needs a mother and a father.' And I think the more you have those people talking about this everyday on TV, the more influence they have on public opinion. But most of the time it's just because they don't know how children with gay parents are raised - and all the studies prove that they are as happy as children of heterosexual parents."
Proposals to change the law
The debate was sparked by proposals put forward by President Francois Hollande's socialist government. The new law would allow homosexual couples to marry - and potentially to adopt or seek assistance in conceiving a child. However, so far the party has tried to sidestep the issue of assisted reproduction, aware that it will prove divisive. They say they will re-examine that issue in March.
Marie-Francoise Clergeau is a parliamentarian from Hollande's Parti Socialiste (PS). She's in favor of the proposals and has vigorously defended the idea in the French parliament.
"The idea of 'marriage for all' will take nothing away from heterosexual marriage as it exists today," she told DW. "But we're opening it up to same-sex couples to allow them to achieve a social norm, to have the same rights, to have real equality."
"It's clear that the problem in France is linked to its cultural history. I think we're in a society that, in part, doesn't want to admit the reality of homosexuality," she said.
The bill is set to pass through parliament this week, with a vote at the end of January. If the plan is approved, France would become the 12th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.
No rights for gay parents
Couples have been able to form civil unions (known as PACS - 'pacte civil de solidarite') in France since 1999, but that law has no provisions for children. Same-sex couples who want to start a family are forced to travel abroad to countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands or Spain - where there are more liberal laws regarding assisted reproduction.
One woman who has done just that is Elodie Lucas, who has two children with her female partner. Lucas is founder of the national organization "Les enfants de l'arc en ciel" ("Children of the Rainbow").
"What we often say to journalists is that when you're gay and you give birth to a child, you immediately think of your own death." She's referring to the fact that a female partner currently has no rights to her child if the birth mother dies - or if the couple were to split up. That can currently lead to situations where the partner is refused custody of her child.
"We want the law to allow us to have a choice in our lives -and to protect our children," Lucas told DW.
Polls show that the majority of the French population does support legalizing gay marriage, but fewer people support the idea of allowing gay couples to start families.
"There's a big generational divide over this question," explained Irene Thery, sociologist and director of EHESS, the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences. She explained that those aged over 50 are far less likely to support gay marriage.
"France is a country with a strong Catholic tradition," she says, adding that "the church is in a position to mobilize lots of people."
Socialist politician Marie-Francoise Clergeau agrees with her, citing the Catholic Church as the main root of the organized opposition to gay marriage. But she dismisses their fears as "out-of-hand." Over the years the church has voiced its opposition to "divorce, contraception, abortion" - all of which turned out to be "advances in individual freedoms," says Clergeau.
"We're in exactly this position today."
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