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Society remains deeply divided over government efforts to legalise same-sex marriage.
French society has often been at the vanguard of radical social change in Europe, but legalising same-sex marriage is proving to be a tricky issue. When Francois Hollande was elected president in May, he reignited debate on the issue with promises of enacting his "marriage for all" project. But the country is divided with vocal opposition from religious leaders, politicians and many in the country's rural provinces. Paris, meanwhile, has begun talks to host the Gay Games in 2018.
The bill on same sex marriage has been taken up for debate in Parliament on January 14. A vote is likely to be taken by the end of January. If approved, France will be the 12th country to legalise same-sex marriage.
When Carine Sapede decided to teach her English class students in Auzeville - a small town in the south of France - about family trees, she called Simon's parents to check how she could proceed. Simon's mothers, Sophie Losfeld, 47, and Cathy Bellot, 53, have been together for 22 years. The parents said the 8-yearold was quite aware that his family setup was different, and that the teacher could go ahead as planned.
In 2004, Losfeld and Bellot went to Barcelona to get Losfeld artificially inseminated. 'Maman' (biological mother) and 'Manou' (social mother) are now Simon's parents. "In the current scenario, I only have parental rights over Simon as long as Sophie is alive. But in case of her death, I will lose all my rights as a parent. We are hoping that the law gives us the right to get married and enables me to have Simon as my son, " says Bellot.
On December 16, gay rights supporters marched along the streets of Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Montpellier, Bordeaux, Nancy, Reims, Nantes and other French cities shouting slogans and carrying placards. Some took potshots at the religious hoopla surrounding the cause. "Jesus Christ also had two fathers, " screamed a board;"I want the same rights as the homophobes, not their opinions, " read yet another. A protest has been planned on January 27 in Paris by the supporters of the law, on the weekend that precedes the beginning of examination of the legislation in the Assembly. The protest is likely to draw anywhere between 60, 000 and 1, 50, 000 supporters.
Some supporters believe that the proposed law itself is the problem. LGBT campaigners such as Catherine Michaud, head of the GayLib LGBT movement associated with the Conservative party, feel that it would be hypocritical to introduce equal rights to marriage without including equal parenting rights. The current law does not give automatic joint parenting rights to gay couples who've had a child together, nor does it allow medically assisted procreation or IVF. The issue of assisted reproduction has been kept aside to be reexamined in March for fear of its proving to be divisive.
Meanwhile, in France, some documents have already replaced the options "Mother" and "Father" with "Parent 1" and "Parent 2". A recent survey carried out for the Le Parisien newspaper showed that 58 per cent of respondents support homosexual marriage. This was in fact a drop from last year when 63 per cent supported the idea. This is the first time in several years that a negative trend was observed - a change that is being ascribed to contextual reasons like the debate coming at a time when the country is mired in economic problems.
Protests and counter-protests are dominating France amid the wave of change. Pope Benedict, who denounced same-sex marriage in his annual Christmas address last year, is not the only one in dissidence. On November 17, a movement spearheaded by La Manif Pour Tous saw about 2 lakh people taking to the streets in different cities of France. They were advocating the rights of a child "to have one father and one mother". Counter protests the same day by supporters of gay marriage in areas such as Toulouse and Paris turned violent with the police using tear gas to dissipate the crowd.
The same group called for a protest in Paris on the eve before the bill was to be taken up for discussion in Parliament. More recently, on Sunday, January 13th, over three lakh people opposing the project from across the country gathered on the streets of Paris.
Among those opposed to gay marriage are homosexuals, atheists and Leftists. Philippe Arino is a homosexual who is strongly opposed to the impending law. "Marriage of homosexuals is like a bourgeois prison. If a child comes in such a situation, it will be catastrophic. It will be against nature, because a child needs love of a mother and father. The law makers don't know the real desire of a homosexual, " he says. Arino has also written books on this subject.
Homosexuals are upset about such "lopsided" views. Suetlana Bergeron, 35, who has been with her girlfriend Audrey Chevrien for 10 years, says that they would like to have a child. "A child needs love. It doesn't matter if the love is given by two men or two women, " she says.
WHERE ELSE ARE SAME-SEX UNIONS LEGAL?
Eleven countries, including the Netherlands, Canada, South Africa, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Iceland have legalised same-sex marriages. Three US states approved same-sex marriage by popular vote in the 2012 elections. The British government has announced that it will introduce a bill legalising gay marriage next year. India has only decriminalised gay rights, not actively promoted it with our lawmaking.
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