From an American perspective, when we think of France, we think of them as generally being more progressive with regards to aspects of life such as trends, socializing, and relationships. We think of their trends as being “hip,” and stylish, considering Paris is the fashion capitol of the world. We also think of France’s more liberal culture of sexuality, LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) rights, and gay marriage.
One would think that France would be extremely accepting of LGBT rights, especially when compared to the United States, who has jumped on board with it within the past several years. Instead, France has actually been fighting for its LGBT rights for a very long time, and even now that it’s legalized, France has still been facing some of the most violent and radically extreme of backlash and protests.
Dating back to 1791, homosexual rights have been sought after. Supporters of LGBT rights have fought for its decriminalization, lessened the bans of sexuality, and legalized same-sex marriage in 2003. The timeline regarding LGBT rights highlights some of the milestone years that have proved to be of significance to the movement.
People who have been social justice warriors for LGBT rights, either for themselves, friends, family, or humanity in general, are still facing social segregation and discrimination, unfortunately leading to violence. One would think France has come so far and the world is adapting to be more accepting of issues like LGBT rights. France has come very far, yes, but not far enough.
Less than 10 days after France legalized same-sex marriage, it was in the news again. On a Saturday and Sunday at the end of May 2013, emotions on same-sex and non-traditional marriage hit a breaking point. On France’s Mother’s Day, a generally peaceful march of well over 150,000 protesters converged in front of the Invalides.
A separate, smaller march by conservative Christians also made its voice heard. Nineteen demonstrators were arrested after climbing onto the headquarters of the Socialist Party and unfurled a banner calling for the resignation of President François Hollande’s resignation. Hollande, after all, was the one who signed the equality bill into existence earlier in the month.
Streets are flooded with demonstrations and protests.
Demonstrators included religious leaders and followers, the conservative French (especially Roman Catholics) who thought “gay couples should have equal rights, but within an institution other than marriage” and those objecting to gay couples adopting children.
The night before the largely peaceful Sunday protests was a more volatile showing. On Saturday night, 59 people were arrested “after chaining themselves to metal barricades on the Champs-Élysées.”
Or at least, that was the New York Time’s report of the protests. The Independent took a much more impassioned angle.
“About 200 young people, many of them masked, pelted police lines with bottles, stones, fireworks and flares. The crowd – led bizarrely at one stage by a lone bagpiper – chased and beat up TV crews and press photographers. Police and gendarmes responded with tear gas and baton charges.”
The Independent also addresses the discrepancies in turnout Police put the turnout at 150,000. The organizers claimed 1,000,000. Other organizers estimated over 400,000, which seemed closest to the mark.”
France was the 14th country to legalize same-sex marriage, and it continues to face the longstanding obstacles that have been holding LGBT couples back for centuries.
France’s LGBT tolerance since the bill and protests.
Not only did opponents of the gay rights and LGBT parenting bill protest, but supporters of the bill also held their own demonstrations. Just two days after the largest protest against the bill happened, 125,000 people took to the streets and staged their own demonstration in favor of these human rights. There were also more than 7,000 same-sex couples that got married in 2013 after the bill was passed.
In January of 2015, the French court validated its first Franco-Moroccan gay marriage. A ban had previously stated that a Moroccan citizen could not marry a French person of the same sex abroad or in Morocco, but “the court put an end to the discriminatory interference” and allows the two to marry.
Unfortunately, there is still a stigma against the LGBT community in France regardless of the bill. Segregation against people who are gay is relevant and ongoing in France. Separate nursing homes for France’s elderly homosexual population has since been discussed with France’s Prime Minister for the Elderly. In the months following the first round of protests, popular Twitter hashtags were #LesGaysDoiventDispaîratreCar (#GaysMustDie) and #BrulonsLesGaysSurDu (#letsburngays).
In February of 2014, tens of thousands of people, mostly right-wing conservatives, protested once again against France’s legalization of gay marriage. Not only that, but protesters were also demanding “the scrapping of an experimental school programme aimed at combatting gender stereotypes.” Members who identify as within the LGBT community still face structural and systematic oppression.
LGBT rights in francophone countries and around the world.
As is evident by the continuous discussion of LGBT issues and rights (or lack of rights) in virtually every news medium, the topic is of universal interest. Though not the first country to legalize same-sex marriage, Belgium became the first francophone country, and the second country in the world to do so in 2003.
Prior to this decision, Belgium had given limited rights to same-sex couples since 1998 with a law allowing these couples to formally register for joint responsibility of their household. The law passed with minimal controversy across the traditionally socially divided country.
In 2003, Belgium officially allowed and recognized same-sex marriage, and in 2006 the government passed a law allowing partners the right to adopt children. Since then, Belgium has become known as the LGBT “paradise” to many, even though historically Belgium was outwardly conservative, Catholic and prone to xenophobia – traits that would suggest more of a struggle for those promoting LGBT rights.
Moving forward, Luxembourg, a country smaller than Rhode Island but consisting of three official languages, became the 20th country to fully legalize same-sex marriage in mid 2014. Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, openly gay Xavier Bettel championed the bill that would allow “gay and lesbian couples to wed and to adopt children.” Previously, the country had recognized same-sex partnerships after a bill granting this registration was passed in 2004.
As is the case both economically and politically, it seems that countries in Africa have historically had a harder time progressing. In the case of LGBT issues, most countries in the continent have the same issue. In 2009, francophone country Burundi made significant steps backward, banning same-sex relationships in any form. Scholars commonly cite colonization of African countries as reasons for lack of progressiveness in African countries in general, yet during it’s years as a colonized state, Burundi had no legacy of any laws prohibiting same-sex relationships.
Although some headway has been made in progressing LGBT rights worldwide, in the grander scheme, arguably only baby steps have been made this far.
Author Team: Skyler Alderton, Hanna Jacunski, Allissa Fisher, and Julia Schaller