Saturday, May 4, 2013

France and Marriage Equality, An Update: Ongoing Protests, with More Promised

For those interested in what continues to go on in France after marriage equality was approved recently by Parliament in that nation, a brief update: as Delphine de Mallevoüe reports for Le Figaro yesterday, Frigide Barjot's "Catho" movement Manif Pour Tous is not giving up its protest of marriage equality even after the new law has passed. The group plans to mount demonstrations tomorrow in Paris and cities throughout France, and there will be more demonstrations as May goes on. This despite the fact that a poll just conducted by the Metro shows 67% of French folks wanting the demonstrations to stop and Barjot's movement to declare defeat . . . . 

The group claims it's defending "humanity," and, as Barjot promised at the end of March, it intends to mount "civil war" in France over the issue of marriage equality and the right of gay couples to adopt. As Giuseppe Di Bella points out for Le Plus, though Barjot and her supporters claim that they are not motivated by anti-gay animus, at the very heart of their crusade is the intent to combat equal rights for gay citizens of France in the area of marriage and adoption. The very centerpiece of their crusade is the intent to deny marriage itself--equal civil marriage--to gay citizens of the country.

And as Aurélie M'Bida reports for Le Monde, the primary reason that Barjot's group continues its battle now that marriage equality is a fait accompli is that the Manif movement has now become a well-oiled machine with a life of its own. In a pattern very familiar to Americans who have followed the development of groups like the National Organization for Marriage into national political players who not only respond to but create culture-war battles, money is pouring into the Manif Pour Tous movement from . . . somewhere.

Just as with NOM and its American affiliates, the identity of those funding the Manif Pour Tous and now turning it into a well-oiled political machine determined to keep stirring trouble in French political and cultural life, the identity of those contributing to Manif Pour Tous is veiled. They do not wish to show their faces. And some of the regional spokespersons for the movement refuse even to disclose their full names when they speak to the media.

This unwillingness to be open about who they are and who's funding them is perhaps understandable when French political leaders supporting marriage equality are still receiving death threats from . . . somebody. As Katie McDonough notes at Salon, Thierry Speitel, the gay mayor of Sigolsheim in Alsace, has just received in the mail a parcel of bullets after he gave an interview stating that he and his partner want to marry and adopt children now that this is legal in France.

As Patrick Cash pointed out a few weeks back, what's particularly stinky about the way Manif Pour Tous is seeking to stir trouble in France, and its hidden but obvious collusion with the far-right in France as it does so, is that the movement (and its veiled advisors?) is choosing to link discontent over France's bad economic situation, particularly among French youth, with disdain for a targeted minority who have nothing at all to do with that situation. The strategy employed by Manif (and its veiled advisors and funders?) is, Cash notes, "insidious and nastily clever" with its method of driving wedges in French society and using the gay community as a scapegoat as it does so.

To my mind, this insidious and nastily clever scapegoating strategy, with its homophobic wedge politics, has the signature of the American National Organization for Marriage written all across it. From its inception (and here), we've known that Manif and NOM are closely aligned, and that the French group appears to be following a game plan written for it by NOM, which practices the same nasty wedge politics in the U.S. to create and massage social divisions eliciting anti-gay sentiment. NOM has been just as cagey about refusing to disclose its donors as the Manif movement in France is now proving to be.

And there's also this: as Jeremy Hooper noted for Human Rights Campaign several weeks ago, NOM has just announced that it intends to expand its work to the international sphere, and to replicate its American strategy in other parts of the world, including France. It intends, as Jeremy notes, to astroturf anti-gay sentiment and anti-gay social discontent in places like France precisely as it is already doing in the U.S.--to create discontent where none now exists, and to claim as it does so that it's speaking for a silent majority, while polls show 67% of French citizens wanting this toxic nonsense to stop.

But it's not going to stop in France despite that solid majority supporting marriage equality, if NOM is involved at a funding level and an advising level. If the American experience with NOM has proven anything at all, it's that anti-gay politics can be instrumentally useful--they can be very effective, in fact--in cementing alliances between diverse groups whose real goal is to oppose progressive political and social movements in general, and to promote right-wing alternatives to those movements.

The American experience with NOM also proves that once these politically effective movements get up and running, they take on a life of their own and become money-making machines that have to keep stirring discontent and driving wedges, since that's how they keep themselves in business. And as long as the hidden money is flowing into groups like this from somewhere, why should they stop the wedge-driving and gay-bashing--even if they do claim to be motivated by a Catholic concern for the common good and by Catholic love for those they are bashing and using as political footballs in nasty political games that are really about issues other than sexuality, when all is said and done?

The graphic: Manif Pour Tous protesters at Tours, 18 April. The photo is by Christophe Becker and is in the Le Monde article linked above.

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