French opponents of same-sex marriage have taken homophobic discourse mainstream

Same-sex marriage should become law in France today, as the bill goes through its second and final reading in Parliament - but the predicted victory will taste bittersweet.

Rebecca Suner is a journalist from France who writes about politics and social issues on both sides of the Channel

Same-sex marriage should become law in France today, as the bill goes through its second and final reading in Parliament – but the predicted victory will taste bittersweet.

The President’s electoral pledge has triggered huge controversy. Francois Hollande has been accused by opponents of being a dictator and of trying to force through a reform the ‘silent majority’ does not want.

Now, after months of protests for and against the ‘mariage pour tous’ bill – which will also give same-sex couples the right to adopt children – the country is left in a state of near ideological civil war.

Formed in September, the collective ‘La Manif Pour Tous’ (LMPT) has been the dissent’s nerve center: at their peak, they mobilized between 340,000 and one million people on the streets.

Defending tradition?

LMPT has made a point of appearing apolitical and moderate. They say their action is not homophobic and that they are defending the ‘foundations of our identity as humans’. They are mainly Catholic and right-wing and very concerned about appearing as a broad and moderate alliance.

The founder/guru of the movement, Frigide Barjot, a Catholic socialite, knows exactly how to manipulate the media and politicians – she used to be the PR for the right-wing party in France. She has been invited on every talk show and even received at the Elysée Palace, where the president lives.

However toned down their message is compared to far-right groups – like the GUD in Lyon, that called to ‘bash fags’ on their website – LMPT’s omnipresence has legitimized an anti-gay discourse in the mainstream.

Lately, they have been protesting every night outside Parliament while MPs are debating the law.

Inside the National Assembly, right and far-right MPs have argued that opening marriage and adoption to same-sex couples will ‘create two humanities’ and ‘wreck children’s lives for electoral reasons’. Philippe Cochet, a right-wing (UMP) MP, has even accused the government of ‘assassinating children’.

Opponents to the bill “have paved the way for homophobic speech,” the home secretary, Manuel Valls, claimed on Europe1 radio on Monday.

A resurgence in homophobia

Indeed, these final days before the vote have come at a high cost for the LGBT community.

Last week, a group of skinheads raided a gay bar in Lille, Northern France, injuring three employees. A similar incident occurred in Bordeaux on the same night, as Parti Socialiste HQs were vandalized in Lyon.

Two weeks ago, the bloodied and wrecked face of Wilfried, a gay man violently attacked in Paris – and who suffered five fractures, a missing tooth and numerous bruises as a result – was shared thousands of times across social media. “This is the real face of homophobia,” he wrote.

These homophobic attacks are not occurring at random, and the daily lot of news from France shows a day-by-day worsening of the situation: death threats sent to MPs, vandalizing of the space where a LGBT conference was taking place, etc. Two LGBT charities have noticed a triple increase of homophobic attacks from 2011 to 2012.

When a group of French expats staged a ‘March for All’ in London on 24 March, they brought their kids and crucifixes. One middle-aged man shoved his ring finger to my face, in a vulgar gesture. His expression was one of fear: the true nature of all bigotry.

In the end, it is highly unlikely that the opposition to the bill will succeed in blocking, or overturning, a social progress France lagged behind. But now is the time to heal the sores they opened.

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