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Support for gay marriage in France declines as government pushes bill

French President Hollande promised to legalize marriage and adoption for same-sex couples when he became president. But now that he's following through, the issue is becoming divisive.

By Correspondent / November 9, 2012

A demonstrator holds a magazine cover as he gathers next to the National Assembly in Paris, Thursday, November 7. France's Socialist government approved a draft law to legalize marriage and adoption for same-sex couples on Wednesday, saying the reform under fire from religious leaders and conservative politicians meant progress for the whole society.

Christian Hartmann/Reuters

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Paris

France’s government unveiled a bill Wednesday to legalize marriage and adoption for same-sex couples amid heated rhetoric and waning popular support for what appeared to be an uncontroversial issue just a few months ago.

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French President François Hollande considers the bill to be a step toward equality and a symbol of progress for the whole society.

“The president obviously underscored that this bill was going to open a debate as we know, [and] that this debate is legitimate,” Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the government’s spokeswoman, said at a weekly press briefing, adding that debate “must be kept under control, it must be respectful of opinions and beliefs.”

The bill was presented during the government’s weekly meeting at the presidential palace and is expected to go to Parliament and become law next year. The legalization of marriage and adoption for gay couples was part of Hollande’s political platform during the presidential campaign earlier this year.

Analysts say that even though introducing the bill now might not be a good idea politically, the government has had no choice but to push it along in order not to look weak on this issue in the eyes of voters.

Céline Bracq, the associate director of the polling group BVA Opinion, says the French government is pushing the bill now because it wants to convince voters that it still has a left-wing and progressive agenda despite tough economic times. This strategy, however, could be counterproductive as the public wants the government to focus on economic issues rather than legalize marriage and adoption for gay couples now, she says.

“The idea of the government is to be able to send messages [to voters] on economic and welfare issues but also to send messages on social issues, which are issues that are associated with the left wing,” Ms. Bracq says. “Now, is this a good idea to do this so quickly? In terms of public opinion, probably not.” 

Heavy criticism

Though same-sex couples have had access to a form of civil union created in 1999 called Pacs, which stands for Pact of Civil Solidarity, the unveiling of the bill comes after a series of declarations by some mayors saying they would refuse to perform gay marriage ceremonies if the law was passed. The Catholic Church, which has had a historically influential role in France, is also heavily criticizing the government’s project.

The right-wing opposition UMP party has made it clear it will not support the bill.

Jean-Frédéric Poisson, a national lawmaker of the UMP party and the Christian-Democratic Party opposing the bill, has called for a national referendum on the issue and says the government has underestimated the bill’s potential for controversy.

“I believe the debate is starting to take off and the government probably didn’t imagine at the beginning of this operation that this debate would grow,” Mr. Poisson says. “It probably thought that it was a done deal, that the public opinion was, indeed, largely in favor of it and that no problem would be posed by this project. And that’s just not the case.”

Decline in approval for supporting gay rights

A Nov. 3 survey by BVA Opinion showed a sharp decline in the support for gay marriage and adoption among the population compared with 2011. However, a majority of those surveyed were still in favor of the measures.

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