In Paris this week, the French National Assembly approved the key clause in legislation for equal marriage – a change in the definition of marriage to “an agreement between two people”, removing the requirement that these two need be of opposite biological sex. The passage had been widely expected as opinion polls have consistently shown strong public support. What made this result particularly interesting, was the sheer scale of the victory: 249 in favour, just 97 against.
As in other countries where the extension of marriage to all has been at the centre of political debate, the French bishops have mounted a strenuous campaign in opposition, orchestrating mass street protests, and triggering protests from government when they attempted to mobilize their Catholic schools in the campaign against. In what is nominally an overwhelmingly Catholic country, and at a time when the Socialist government of Francois Hollande has been losing support, one would have expected such extensive efforts by the bishops to have some effect – but the result shows that if anything, the bishops attempts to forestall equality have simply been counterproductive.
The bishops should have read the writing on the wall, in the row over their attempts to bring the schools on-side. Ever since the French Revolution, the separation of church and state has been an important, much respected principle in French politics.
Last month, Eric de Labarre, secretary-general of France’s Catholic school system—which educates about one-fifth of the country’s children—sent a letter to school heads urging them to discuss same-sex marriage and adoption in the classroom. “Every primary and secondary school should take the appropriate steps to ensure everyone has the freedom to make an informed decision over the choices the government is considering today,” Labarre wrote.
Peillon fired back with strongly worded missive:
“It doesn’t seem appropriate to bring the debate over equal marriage rights into schools. I have the deepest respect for the Catholic school system. But, the institution, which is under contract with the state, must respect the principle that everyone has the right to a neutral and free thought.”
In his statement, Peillon urged caution when dealing with young students, as gay teens are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers -
So both de Labarre, for the Catholic Church, and Peillon, for the government, were in effect asking for the same thing: de Labarre called it an “informed decision”, and Peillon “neutral and free thought”. Both got their wish. With the extensive public debate, French pupils and adults certainly had all the information necessary for a fully informed decision. The results of opinion polls and the Assembly vote showed that French voters and politicians took that decision independently, refusing to be cowed by pressure from the Catholic oligarchy.
In this, the French were simply repeating a pattern which has become clearer with every passing year. In 2o12, Catholic bishops were prominent in the ballot box attempts to forestall equality in three US states (and less prominently in Maine). They lost, in every one of those four. Catholic voters, on the other hand, were prominent in campaigns to extend marriage and embrace equality. They won. The previous year, Catholic politicians and voters had been instrumental in the successful campaign for marriage equality in New York – again, in the face of strenuous efforts by Catholic bishops. Internationally, bishops’ efforts to resist equality have been notably unsuccessful in the Catholic countries of Belgium, Spain, Portugal and Argentina. The Netherlands and Canada were early pioneers in the introduction of gay marriage – both with sizable numbers of Catholics in their populations. This year, both Colombia and Uruguay are expected to join the expanding club of equal marriage countries. Ireland does not yet have a timetable, but it is clear it is heading in the same direction.
It’s not only 0ver same – sex marriage that the Vatican and Catholic bishops are losing their chosen political battles. Last year, they lost in Malta over divorce, and later in the Philippines on the Reproductive Health bill to make contraception more freely available to the poor. This year, they are attempting to prevent revisions to the Irish law on abortions. They will lose that one, too.
A few years ago, an Italian journalist published a book with the title, translated into English, of “Once there was a Vatican”, in which he lamented that the Catholic Church was losing its stranglehold influence on Italian politics. National Catholic Reporter carried a story this week, informing us that the Vatican has admitted that it doesn’t understand youth culture. YOUTH culture? It’s much, much worse. They just don’t understand any human culture, outside the closed, asexual ivory towers of Vatican City.
We should be celebrating, not lamenting, that the Vatican and its claque are losing their ability to force their disordered and dangerous misunderstanding of human sexuality into the secular world, in Italy and everywhere else..
- Promote LGBT Ministry: Write to Rome, Write the Bishops”! (queeringthechurch.com)
- Equal Marriage: A Letter to My MP, Jeremy Hunt (queeringthechurch.com)
- French Bishops: “Respect Gay Relationships, Support Civil Unions, Reject Homophobia” (queeringthechurch.com)
- French MPs endorse gay marriage (bbc.co.uk)
- French Government Urges Catholic Schools To Stay Neutral On Same-Sex Marriage (thinkprogress.org)
- French Bishops: “Respect Gay Experience”. (queeringthechurch.com)