“And I’ve heard no one here in Blerancourt who disagrees with me,” Laplace, a 59-year-old former banking executive, said in his ornate town hall rising from the flatlands 75 miles northeast of Paris.
As President Francois Hollande’s government prepares to have its comfortable majority vote gay marriage into law, probably late next month, thousands of mayors, deputy mayors and other small-town officials across France have risen up to voice their opposition.
The movement largely ignores political and religious lines, according to its organizers. Instead, they say, it dramatizes another line, one that divides Paris, with its trends and politics, from the countless smaller communities around France where most people remain attached to timeless values in a tradition-heavy society with deep Christian roots.
In some ways, the hesitations in France resemble those in the United States, where the District of Columbia, Maryland and eight other states have approved same-sex marriage but where vast swaths of the country disagree. In what is likely to affect the debate in other states, the Supreme Court agreed this month to review state and federal efforts to limit marriage to a union between a man and a woman.
But here in France, the battle over gay marriage is being fought in the street and in the media, not in the courts. France being France, it is a battle that revolves around ideas and philosophy, not legalities.
In an unusual display, France’s Roman Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist spiritual leaders joined hands Nov. 29 to testify against the proposed law before a parliamentary commission. Opponents from several spontaneous groups staged demonstrations in a dozen French cities last month and have promised a giant march Jan. 13 in hopes of delaying the National Assembly vote and forcing the government to hold a referendum.
On the other side, Socialist leaders and gay activists have noted that Hollande clearly listed homosexual marriage as part of the program on which he was elected in May — implying that it has been approved by a majority of the French people. Citing favorable majorities in opinion polls, they describe the issue as a question of human rights, saying there is no reason to deprive gay couples of the same marriage and family enjoyed by heterosexuals.
Moreover, France has fallen behind other progressive countries in Europe, they complain, noting that gay marriage has been authorized in seven European countries, including Spain and Portugal, which are heavily Roman Catholic.