17 November 2014

The Awakening of Reactionary Anti-Gay France

Anti-Gay France
If the French government thought that the "Manif pour tous" ("demonstration for all") is done protesting against pro-gay laws, then they are mistaken.

After drawing an estimated 100,000-150,000 participants early this year to protest against a law called Mariage pour tous (Marriage for All), something bigger was and is stirring. A huge demonstration will take place against soon all over France and the marchers will represent "The Awakening (le réveil) of Reactionary France."

Marchers filled the streets of Paris and Lyon early in 2014 to protest same-sex marriage, which became legal in France in 2013. The day after the demonstrations, François Hollande’s Socialist government was compelled to announce that it would not be putting forward new legislation that seeks to make it easier for gay couples to adopt children or have them with the help of surrogate mothers.

Although the government insisted that the decision had nothing to do with the protests, which of course nobody in their right believes. Hollande’s gay-rights retreat was a major victory for La Manif Pour Tous (The Protest for Everyone), the group that has organized a series of massive protests since November, 2012, when the government first introduced the gay-marriage law.

Political street demonstrations are so much a part of French life that they have their own nickname, la manif, short for manifestation, or protest. They have a long history of blocking or undoing legislation, toppling governments, and reshaping the country — sometimes quite literally.

Paris itself was redesigned, in the eighteen-sixties, after rioters took control of the city in both 1830 and 1848. Under Napoleon III, Georges-Eugène Haussmann levelled the narrow, labyrinthine streets of medieval Paris and replaced them with today’s sweeping boulevards — in part to make it more difficult for protestors to barricade parts of the city. Still, in 1968, student protests effectively ended the political career of Charles de Gaulle, and, in 1995, forced the government of Alain Juppé to withdraw a series of proposed pension reforms.

La Manif, with some important exceptions, has been mostly a left-wing phenomenon. But, in the past year, it has assumed a different color. La Manif Pour Tous, which was created to protest gay marriage, not only coöpted the term manif but stole the appealing language of the law itself, which was called “Le Mariage Pour Tous” (“Marriage for Everyone”). “A rather brilliant media coup,” Danielle Tartakowsky said, who recently published a book on right-wing protests called “Les Droites et La Rue.”

What is similar to the Tea Party in the United States is that La Manif Pour Tous emerged outside the structure of the traditional French parties — both the Gaullist U.M.P. and the far-right National Front of Marine Le Pen. As with the Tea Party, its supporters claim to represent a silent majority that is not being heard by the élites in the capital.

However, the Tea Party turned quickly to electoral politics, with what can be seen as either an accession to or a partial takeover of the Republican Party. “La Manif Pour Tous has gone out of its way to keep its distance from both the U.M.P. and the National Front,” Tartakowsky said. It also rejects being labelled as on the right.

Indeed, some of the movement’s positions would place it in the center or center-left of the American debate on social issues. For example, La Manif Pour Tous does not oppose abortion, even though many of its leaders say that, as a private matter, they are against it. “It’s not our issue,” de la Rochère has said repeatedly, when pressed.

La Manif Pour Tous leaders virtually never mention God or the Church, although most are observant Catholics. The French bishops have stayed in the background. Unlike their American counterparts, the French are much less comfortable with religion in public discourse. “This movement is inconceivable without Catholicism,” Tartakowsky said. “And its success is partly dependent on its keeping its religious roots out of sight.”

La Manif Pour Tous has not objected to France’s civil-union law, known as PACS, passed in 1999, which allows gay — and heterosexual — couples to gain legal recognition for their unions without marrying.