A couple of days ago, around 200 protesters gathered in the central plaza in Toulouse to protest proposed legislation to make gay marriage legal. In France, like in the United States, same-sex marriage is a point of contention. But, unlike in the States, the protesters weren’t holding up holy books and screaming about Leviticus. Arguably worse, they voiced their disgust from a completely secular platform.
President François Hollande ran promising to legalize same-sex marriage. Like some states in the US, Civil unions are currently legal in France, but adoption and succession rights are non-existent.
The French Republic was founded on the ideas of equality and a French concept called laïcité—the complete absence of religion in governmental affairs. This means political discourse in France must be entirely free of religious rhetoric. So what you have in France is a large group of old people battling civil rights, not with religious ideals, but with science, sociology, and cold, reductive rationality.
Congregated in a large circle and separated from the counter-protest by a line of police, the anti-gay protesters hijacked and contorted the famous chant of the Arab Spring, Ash-shab yurid isqat an-nizam, (The people want to bring down the Regime), supplementing the words of revolution with their own twisted lyrics. Un Papa, Une Mama…On ne ment pas aux Enfants! (One Father, One Mother…We don’t lie to Children!)
The protesters claim that they are out there fighting for “Children’s Rights”—yes, these French people actually believe that same-sex marriages mess up children. One man told me, “Parents do not have the right to a child; Children have a right for parents.” When I asked him why those parents couldn’t be of the same sex, made-up studies and intolerant jargon began to spew forth like shit from his mouth. “The paring of male and females is part of the history of mankind…Their kids will be made fun off… it’s not fair for kids… you need both parents to raise a child, without mother and father, it’s a grave injustice”
Throughout the protest, there was tension in the air and the occasional flare-up. At one point it became very heated when two women hopped the fence and began to make-out intensely. They were swiftly separated before the cops could break up the encounter.
Rising above the culture war mosh-pit, engraved into the capitol above were the guiding words of the French Revolution: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. The French revolutionaries intended to establish full social and political equality. This idea was the basis of the republic.
Two French students told me that they had never witnessed an anti-gay rally of this size, and the secular prejudice was, to them, a new phenomenon. The consensus among the pro-gay-marriage demonstrators is that the National Assembly will easily pass the bill. But this new, fiery flare-up seems to suggest that things might take a different turn.
Growing up in the US, I had always seen the country of France as the pinnacle of secular liberal thought and cosmopolitan culture. But it seems now that the ideals of a utopian society cultivated during the French Revolution can act as a kind of shield to protect the narrow-minded and prejudiced. In a sense anti-gay protesters in the US have the advantage of using their religion as a supposedly unquestionable justification for their intolerant philosophy; the protesters in France do not have this luxury. They are forced to concoct reasoning and adopt a façade of secularism.
Governmental structure has little effect on the prejudiced. Bigots will continue to be bigoted, no matter what. The anti-gay protesters in France show that even in the most politically progressive countries, change has to come from within a society.