How the French debate destroyed the two top myths about gay marriage
June 10, 2013 (thePublicDiscourse) - If the recent French mobilizations against same-sex marriage have taught us anything, it’s this: The LGBT lobby has misrepresented its cause’s relationship to time and history. Illinois Democrat Greg Harris stated in a National Public Radio piece what the lobby has been claiming for years:
Folks know this will be a vote that history will remember . . . And I think a lot of folks are deciding they’re going to want to be remembered on the right side of history.
The proponents of same-sex marriage like polls. A Gallup poll published in mid-May showed public support for their cause rising from 27 percent in 1996 to 53 percent this year. Pew’s survey data reflect a more modest rise, from 35 percent in 2001 to 49 percent in 2013, but the upward march is still clear. In April 2013, the Williams Institute published a state-by-state analysis that reflected a steady growth in the number of states, such as New York, in which more than 50 percent of respondents supported same-sex marriage.
Less often mentioned are certain caveats in all these polls. For instance, in Gallup’s poll respondents were asked to choose between supporting or opposing same-sex marriage, without being offered a third option such as civil unions. The data from the Williams Institute show that liberal California is still only at 50 percent for same-sex marriage, perhaps because the state has domestic partnerships already. Minnesota residents only supported same-sex marriage by 43 percent, despite their popular vote to reject a constitutional ban in 2012 and despite the legislature’s hurried process of legalizing it in the state.
Nevertheless, two assumptions have determined the way pundits have interpreted these data.
One assumption is that the increase in support will be consistent over time rather than fickle. We can name this the Inevitability Assumption, a quasi-Marxian or at least Hegelian view that History is beckoning in one direction and there will be no turning back.
The second assumption is that more people accept same-sex marriage because they have more reliable information about what it entails. This is the Enlightenment Assumption, the notion that there is a transcendental benevolence in same-sex marriage, which can rely on the good and the true, if not the beautiful, to be vindicated by the diffusion of knowledge.
A recent piece in the Los Angeles Times offers a digestible version of the Enlightenment Assumption: “Knowing a gay person is a key factor in rising support of gay marriage.” The example of Ohio Senator Rob Portman is Exhibit A for this line of reasoning: All Portman had to do was put a face on the issue, in the form of his gay son’s visage, to be persuaded to the cause.
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If we combine the Inevitability Assumption and the Enlightenment Assumption, the resulting concoction is the message that predominates in American propaganda: Gay marriage is on the right side of history because history will take us in only one direction, based on the most fundamental of human goods: knowledge of the truth.
Assumptions and Fallacies
These assumptions are in fact fallacies. More than any other populace, the French have laid them bare with their four massive “manifs” or mobilizations (November 17, January 13, March 24, and May 26).
These four mobilizations are credited as the largest mass uprising in France since the famous revolts of May 1968. As many as 60 percent of French respondents supported same-sex marriage in the fall of 2012, but the level of support now hovers around only 39 percent, with 54 percent supporting “civil unions” only. It is no wonder that the French government has had to shield itself and its LGBT benefactors from outrage with an increasingly totalitarian modus operandi encompassing tear gas and other familiar police-state tactics.
The French resistance to same-sex marriage has demonstrated that an ostensibly progressive nation that had little issue with homosexuality as a moral question can change its mind, not based on ignorance of reality, but based on knowing more about what same-sex marriage really means.
Sorry, LGBT lobby, the French are sending your soufflé back to the kitchen.
The French had little issue with the PACS, or domestic partnerships, passed in the 1990s. The nation is not a die-hard right-wing country, as we know from the fact that Socialists took over the government in 2012.
Yet millions of French citizens stormed the streets of Paris and dozens of other cities to block same-sex marriage. Despite attempts by the international press to paint the “Manif pour Tous” and the “French Spring” as a band of intolerant Catholic reactionaries, polls show that a comfortable majority of the French people share their view of the same-sex marriage law, even if some within that majority are not eager to join in the street protests.
The drop in support for same-sex marriage came with education and broader public debate. As the French knew more gay people individually and learned more about the ramifications of their legalized marriage on the community at large—especially children and poor communities overseas targeted for adoption and surrogacy—they liked the idea of same-sex marriage less and less.
The text of the law that passed bears the scars of a public backlash. For instance, both insemination rights for lesbian couples and gestational surrogacy rights for gay men had to be scrapped by President François Hollande’s government because of their horrendous unpopularity. (Both insemination and surrogacy are subject to broader bans in France than in the United States.)
Adoption was included in the final bill that went through the French parliament, over the strenuous objections of adoptees of all stripes, ranging from a fifteen-year-old writing in Boulevard Voltaire to Cyril Langelot to Benoît Talleu, an eloquent Franco-Vietnamese teen who addressed 700,000 French marchers on January 13.
Benoît’s adoptive father, Franck Talleu, was inexplicably arrested two and a half months after his son’s famous speech. Police detained him for wearing a sweatshirt with the children’s rights blazon on it. The arrest was widely viewed in France as proof that the Hollande regime had to employ invasive practices to cover up the unpopularity of its pro-LGBT proposals.
While same-sex adoption survived massive protests, its chances are going to be rather slim because of the long waiting list of heterosexual couples looking to adopt. Since France’s public controversy, now Russia has refused to authorize any more adoptions into the country and India has blocked surrogacy by same-sex couples. It will be more difficult for same-sex couples to mask their purchase of babies through surrogates abroad as international adoption.
The French attorney general Christiane Taubira tried to skirt the French ban on surrogacy with a memo allowing the government to treat overseas babies conceived by surrogate mothers as adoptees eligible for citizenship. Instead of quiet acquiescence to this sleight, she sparked mass protests against the merchandizing of women’s wombs. The shocking turn in the Washington Post, with an unprecedented column criticizing surrogacy by Kathleen Parker, might be evidence that the French street revolution set off a chain reaction that eventually brought even a super gay-friendly American publication like the Post to face the grim business behind same-sex parenting.
The French government’s attempts to scrub these controversial aspects of the same-sex marriage bill quietly didn’t work. As the public contemplated the problems with sperm banking and surrogacy, they grew increasingly suspicious of everything the LGBT lobby was promoting about its “families.” This happened despite all the assurances from Hollande’s ministers that the marriage bill would not lead to a boost in artificial reproductive technology.
Fallacy #1: The Inevitability Assumption
France proves that no opinion trend on any graph can be taken for granted as perpetual. In the United States we knew this already; we simply weren’t aware that we knew it. We know from the abortion debate that what seems like a steady march of acceptance can actually grind to a halt or reverse.
The Gallup polls on abortion show how unpredictable the trends in opinion can be, for the number of “pro-choice” Americans peaked in 1996 at 56 percent, then declined to 45 percent today, while pro-life opinion gained significant ground, albeit in fits and starts (only 33 percent of Americans were pro-life in 1996, compared to 48 percent today).
If we take a step back and examine how the international LGBT lobby has fought for same-sex marriage, we see that the lobby’s leaders must be equally aware that nothing is inevitable about acceptance of same-sex marriage, regardless of what they say publicly. Rather than patience, haste has characterized their tactics.
It would not be necessary to push the case for same-sex marriage so fervently in the Supreme Court if the electoral victories in Maine, Washington, and Maryland were truly confidence-inspiring signs of the movement’s inexorable march toward mass public approval. Nor would it have been necessary for the lobby to rush same-sex marriage through the Minnesota legislature when polls showed that fewer than 45 percent of the state’s voters really wanted to redefine marriage.
In France, the same sense of haste was also evident. Debate was noticeably cut short by the government. During the hearings leading up to the introduction of the bill in Parliament, only religious groups were invited to express objections. On February 15, 2013, when 700,000 petitions were presented to the nation’s Economic, Social and Environmental Committee (CESE) asking for full research into the impacts of the same-sex marriage bill, the French government committed a possibly unconstitutional act and deemed the petitions “unacceptable.”
The process of passing the law also quickened. The vote in the Senate was held ahead of schedule and only conducted with a show of hands, so that it was impossible to record which parliamentarians voted for the law and which voted against it.
Fallacy #2: The Enlightenment Assumption
Rather than maximize people’s access to information about the impact of same-sex parenting, the lobby has sought to suppress journalistic and academic investigations into areas such as surrogacy, which give people pause with time and reflection. While it is impossible to know the inner thoughts of people running advocacy groups, it is reasonable to conclude that they opt to force same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting through the legislatures and courts at lightning speed, before people have the chance to stop and think about what they are signing up for. (The recent examples of California and Illinois are telling; in both states the large number of people who have gay friends did not lead to easy passage of same-sex marriage, but rather may have triggered a backlash resulting in California’s Proposition 8 and the failure of same-sex marriage last week in the Illinois legislature.)
The other myth that the French pitilessly debunked was the myth of the lovable gay lobby. Since I’ve spent almost my whole life immersed in the LGBT community, I’ve known good and bad people who identify as “gay.” But the attacks of LGBT activists against people who disagree with them are matched by their willingness to subvert other people’s interests to their own. The lobby’s mistake was to try to butter up the French with the usual platitudes about love and bullying.
The French are a tough crowd. I learned this when I took to the stage at the March 24 manif and fielded the boos from over a million marchers at the mention of “homophobia.” They weren’t booing me, thank goodness; they were booing the idea of people accusing someone of homophobia for asking obvious questions about the logistics of surrogacy contracts for gay men like Perez Hilton. The crowd cheered me on for most of my six-minute talk. But the moment was educational.
Whereas in the English-speaking world we observe some British conventions of privacy and politeness, it is never a good idea to tell French speakers that some questions are off- limits. They are a blunt people. It’s one thing to get booed by a few hundred people in a gymnasium. It’s completely another to stand below the Arch of Triumph and hear over a million French people boo at the same time. You feel the zeitgeist with much more force. It seems like the buildings, the sky, the trees, and even the birds overhead are groaning at you. This is not a scenario that will allow you to fudge facts.
Hence in France, the average person’s instinct is to ask the questions and draw the comparisons, which Americans consider taboo for the same-sex marriage movement.
They ask: What kind of crazy country wants to erase gender? The answer: Sweden, where mental illness has skyrocketed since the imposition of gender theory in schools.
They ask: Where the heck are lesbians going to find sperm for a baby? The answer: sperm banks, which are coming under fire from the adult children of anonymous sperm donors, including Alana S. Newman, who testified against homosexual fertility subsidies in California. As it turns out, knowing who one’s father is matters more than same-sex parenting peddlers care to acknowledge.
They ask: Isn’t gestational surrogacy a lot like the historical abuses that human beings committed during the times of slavery—buying and selling people, removing children from their heritage, in order to satisfy an adult consumer desire? The answer: Yes, and let’s not forget eugenics and cultural genocide.
During my time in France, shuttling around with Frigide Barjot and other leaders of the marriage movement, I felt transported to an alternate universe. I suppose that is what “French” is—an alternate world crafted through language. It’s a world where truths aren’t bucked and disguised so easily, a world where arguments aren’t ever settled, and claims to a “consensus” invite people to riot. Strangely, the home country of Roland Barthes, author of the famous book Mythologies, is not an easy habitat for political myths like the Inevitability Assumption and the Enlightenment Assumption. France has sneezed—will America catch cold?
Robert Oscar Lopez is an associate professor of English and classics at California State University, Northridge. The views expressed in this article are his and do not reflect the opinions of his employer. He edits the blog English Manif.