The pace at which the UK has trodden the path towards the legalisation of same-sex marriage may have frustrated its strongest supporters, yet the French reception to equivalent legislation should serve as a source of resolve for its advocates.
In early December a Conservative led government in Westminster announced a proposal to allow same-sex marriages for those religious organisations that want it. Meanwhile across the channel, President Hollande’s socialist government wishes to legalise same-sex marriage and adoption by June, but has met both a political and public opposition that has burgeoned and become increasingly intransigent.
In a country more famed in the popular imagination for its promotion of liberal agendas, a group of approximately 300,000 protestors marching to the Eiffel Tower on 14th January in opposition to the Bill would suggest strong countervailing attitudes.
That oppositional groups in the UK have been vocal is of little doubt. For the Anglican churches this has even won them their minor victories of exclusion from the proposal. These victories have failed to win over the public to their arguments however. Although polls vary substantially, most indicate an increase in public support for same-sex marriage in recent years with at least 55 per cent in favour as of the latest YouGov polls.
The Church has also run the risk of increasing marginalisation at times through its methods. When a year ago the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, suggested that allowing homosexual couples to wed would show David Cameron to be acting as a ‘dictator’ there was immediate condemnation. There were even to be some self-proclaimed traditionalists among those shrewdest of observers who noted that authoritarian leaders aren’t famed for their support of minority rights.
Whilst a matter of contention internally for the Conservatives, as a sign of the political consensus which it courts, support for the planned legislation encompasses the leadership of all three major parties.
In France, conversely, opposition to same-sex marriage has accumulated momentum lately, of which the confusingly named ‘Demo for All’ was the latest episode. Although this demonstration embraced the semantics of tolerance this broad-based movement has shown a more than occasional predilection for Semantu-esque discourse.
Last November the Paris Archbishop, Andre Vingt Trois, criticised the bill as ‘a sham that will smash the foundations of society’. Cardinal Phillipe Barbarin barely matched such measured restraint as he predicted a ‘complete breakdown in society’ arising in ‘polygamy, paedophilia and incest’.
Politically, the issue has been a polarising one too. Divided along lines of right and left, the conservative former Prime Minister Francois Fillon has pledged to reverse the law in the event of regaining office. Beyond political strategy, 100 mayors have signed a petition insisting upon their right to refuse to preside over same-sex marriages.
Far from having been met with indifference this energetic drive has made significant headway. Polls indicate a fall of 10 per cent among those approving the change, with fewer than half supporting gays’ winning of adoption rights.
That these occasionally alarmist arguments, even when couched in the language of bigotry, have failed to take root in the UK whilst finding fertile ground in the land of ‘Liberté, égalité et fraternité isn’t to indulge in a self-congratulatory celebration of our national capacity for tolerance. Rather, it comes as a warning that with sufficient force of repetition, and the weight of authority, advocates of intolerance remain effective contenders.