Why France's Gay Marriage Debate has Started to look like a Revolution
Paris: Revolutions are often sparked by an unexpected shock to an already weakened regime. As commentators in France remark not only on the crisis engulfing François Hollande’s government but also on the apparent death-rattle of the country’s entire political system, it could be that his flagship policy of legalising gay marriage — or rather, the gigantic public reaction against it, unique in Europe — will be the last straw that breaks the Fifth -Republic’s back.
Opposition to the bill has electrified the middle classes, the young and much of provincial France. On Sunday 24 March, in the freezing cold, the 4km stretch from the Arche de la Défense to the Arc de Triomphe was full of people protesting against the bill. On 13 January, also chilly, the Champ de Mars was similarly crammed. When Johnny Hallyday or the World Cup got crowds like that, people talked of two million. But the police, evidently acting under political orders, have claimed that both demonstrations — which are without doubt the largest public movements in French history — garnered a few hundred thousand at most. Credible accusations surfaced in Le Figaro on Monday night that the film taken from police helicopters on 24 March and released by the Prefecture has been manipulated to reduce the apparent numbers of demonstrators.
Such lies are the sign of a rotten regime. Outbursts such as that of Elie Peillon, the son of the Minister of Education, who on 13 January tweeted that ‘those gits’ demonstrating should be publicly hanged, make Marie-Antoinette’s seem delicate by comparison. Had the mobilisation in Paris taken place in Tahrir Square, the world’s media would be unanimous that a ‘French spring’ was about to sweep away an outdated power structure, especially since the demonstrations (including the daily ones held throughout last week, which culminated in a massive impromptu rally of 270,000 people on Sunday afternoon) are attended by an overwhelming number of people in their late teens and early twenties.