After a divisive campaign and polemical debates, this week France became the 14th country to legalize same-sex marriage. Last week, New Zealand was the 13th. France became the ninth country in Europe, following even staunchly Catholic Portugal and Spain, to legalize same-sex marriage. The wild protests and fierce support have illustrated a contentious dichotomy in French society, one that will hopefully be tamed once this bill is enacted. As the decision was reached and announced this Tuesday, hundreds of activists protested outside the National Assembly building. This figure, however, is significantly reduced from the 350,000 who marched en masse when the bill was introduced in January.
Supporters of gay marriage have continued to meet and march as well. Earlier this month, 5,000 proponents of the bill gathered to defend gay marriage and condemn violence against homosexuals. According to these activists, gays have been increasingly targeted because opponents to the bill have begun lashing out in violent attacks. This demonstration was held after a photo was released and went viral, which showed the bloodied face of Wilfred de Bruijn. De Bruijn and his partner were attacked in the streets of Paris in a violent outburst of homophobia. Hopefully such violence will subside once the bill becomes law.
French President Francois Hollande declared gay marriage his top social reform priority during his campaign, and the ratification of this bill represents his biggest social accomplishment since taking office in May 2012.This bill legalizes gay marriage, the first of which may occur in June of this year, as well as adoption by same sex couples. This second issue is in fact more antagonistic in French society. Roughly 50% of French citizens support homosexual adoption, whereas 55-60% support gay marriage.
The animosity towards this bill was unprecedented in France, a country where the Catholic Church is thought to have lost much of its sway with the public. Large-scale protest was expected in Spain and Portugal, and in similarly religious Latin American countries like Argentina and Uruguay. However, these countries passed similar bills incurring relatively small amounts of protest. The hundreds of thousands that have marched in opposition to the bill were unexpected.
The Netherlands became the first country to legalize gay marriage in 2001. South Africa, a country that still holds many taboos against homosexuals, joined the club in 2006. Belgium, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and Uruguay New Zealand and France just this month.
So where is the United States?
Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage, but thirty-eight have banned it and the federal government still has yet to develop a national law. A country that doesn’t have a huge Catholic influence, that declares itself a model for citizens around the globe, and that has dedicated itself to equality and freedom, should start tackling this issue in a meaningful way. For a country that ostensibly leads the world, it is seriously falling behind.