The news that France passed ‘marriage for all’ was delivered with jubilant footage. Members of Parliament cheering and tearing; there was hugging. It’s tempting to see France becoming the 14th country to legalize equal marriage as inevitable. Mais bien sûr! This is a country known for being far less rigid and puritanical than America. From a vantage point of 3,000+ miles France appears to be a more vivre et laisser vivre kinda place. This perception is distilled in mental images of Josephine Baker, James Baldwin (and just about every other writer found in any decent home library) finding a more agreeable way of life in France. The French, Parisians in particular, seem impervious to race and fluid when it came to sexuality. Sexual behavior and couplings seemed more akin to the pleasures of fine dining than a naughty or shameful undertaking. But is this live and let live kinda place actually for real? Have we, from 3,000+ miles, taken bits and pieces and formed an attractive if not entirely accurate picture?
Those hugging tearing politicians are just one image among many. Have you seen the violent protests and ugly worded signs? Have you heard the (translated) rhetoric? Much of the ‘anti’ argument (that has made the journey across the Atlantic) has centered on ‘the children.’ Almost without exception anytime ‘the children’ are invoked in an argument it is code for ‘no, look over here at this bright shiny thing.’ The children. That’s right, gay and lesbian French are fighting for their equality because of ‘the children.’ Opponents of equal marriage have declared that children need a mother and a father. That certainly makes for a nice sentimental placard but what does it mean? Are there no single parents in France (she says while spitting out her latte?) That’s pretty hard to fathom in a country known for being more lax about relationships outside of marriage. Are there currently no gay and lesbian households that include children? Doubtful, as some people come to relationships having already lived a bit. Without a law protecting equal marriage and the ability for both spouses to adopt a child, gays and lesbians will still parent. The children however will have less protection. It is remarkable in this day and age, when people are regularly parenting without benefit of marriage, that anyone would even attempt to wave the ‘one mother one father’ flag. No one, not any child expert, psychologist, sociologist or anyone would ever posit that a child is better served by fewer caring adults or instability. What children need most is a secure, stable environment in which the adults are focused on the care of the child. Denying their parents the right to marry or preventing the children from being adopted is simply not in the best interest of ‘the children’. That this or any argument is being made by a country known (to us) as being far more lax seems uncharacteristic.
It’s tempting to view an entire people as being cooler, thinner and far more adept at walking in heels on cobblestones than us. We’d like to imagine an entire country that sits down when drinking coffee, and not dressing their children in cartoon festooned garb. Knowing that there’s a place in which one greets the shopkeeper and ends every request with ‘if you please’ gives us hope. But there are manners (real or perceived) and then there’s real life. In real life the French aren’t that much different than us. Yes, they can do that scarf thing, and yes there’s the accent that can turn even a craggy old fisherman into Yves Montand, but when it comes to social issues, are they really that different? It is true that people of color, particularly artists, found an accepting home in France. But was that so much about French color-blindness as it was an appreciation for the arts or dare we say, Americans? When people of color moved into France in significant numbers troubles began to simmer. The 2005 riots were the result of a people of color feeling marginalized for quite some time.
Discovering that the land in which so much seems better, where the wine and bonhomie flow all day and into the night, is really not that much different than us is jarring but incredibly inspiring. It is a sign that Americans, with our baseball cap, sippy cup toting selves, with our puritanical views of sex and our discomfort with race, we too can pass a law that states that all people are created equal.