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France's Senate Approves Marriage Equality Bill in 179-157 Vote


The French Senate today approved Section 1 of its marriage equality bill in a vote of 179 to 157. Section 1 removes the requirement for different genders as a condition of the right to marry.

The bill was adopted after more than 10 hours of discussion. The National Assembly has already passed it 329-229 and according to AFP will not need to see it again.

Looks as though marriage equality is going to happen in France!

The Local reports:

The article was adopted by a majority of 179 to 157, following 10 hours of debate on the floor of the Senate. Five senators from the centre-right opposition UMP defected from their party and voted in favour of the article. Radicals senators, from the RDSE (European Democratic and Social Rally), had one vote against the article, and four abstentions. The remainder of the left in the Senate were united in voting in favour.

Despite the efforts of gay marriage opponents in the chamber, the article was also passed ‘conforme’— that is, without any modifications, or amendments, and on the first vote, which means it will not have to go back to the lower house. While Tuesday night’s vote does not formally cement gay marriage in French law, the Senate would now have to reject the entire bill, to prevent it becoming definitive, however that now appears unlikely.

Another crucial vote will be held on the whole bill in a matter of weeks, but rejection looks unlikely. Full passage would make France the world's 12th country to legalize same-sex marriage.

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  1. Since the National Assembly has already passed the law and it does not differ from the Senate-passed version, it can skip the joint commission and immediately go to the President for his signature. Then it is published in "le journal oficiel" of laws and the very next day it becomes law.

    Posted by: Mike | Apr 9, 2013 8:51:35 PM

  2. You are misunderstanding what happened.
    They only approved Article 1. It is the crucial article changing the definition of marriage but there are plenty more (on adoption, etc).
    The fact Article 1 was approved by a relatively comfortable margin is a good sign because there were worries the overall bill could fail in the Senate (which would not have mattered since the Assemblee Nationale always has the last word regardles) as the Left has a very very narrow majority in the Senate and there were some wobbly Senators (but more supportive right-wing Senators than the near-unanimous right-wing opposition in the lower chamber).

    Anyway what happens now? The bill will continue to be examined and many more articles approved and then the overall bill will go to a vote.
    Either there are no significant amendments approved at all and then the identical bills will have been approved by both chambers and will go to Hollande for final ratification. Or, as is more likely, a handful of amendments will be voted and it will need to be discussed a second time at the Assemblee Nationale sometimes in May-June so that both bills are identical. The time has already been set aside on the Assemblee's calendar so they do expect to need a second reading. Again the right wing will slow-walk it and behave hysterically but there is no doubt - and has never been any doubt - about the final result in the French institutional system.
    Whether the Senate approves it or not is even irrelevant (although it'd be an embarassment). Hollande has a clear majority in the lower chamber and that's all they need.

    In any case, the vote on Article 1 is symbolically good news and yet another step but nothing major.
    French same-sex weddings should be starting in the summer.

    Posted by: titbug | Apr 9, 2013 8:53:16 PM

  3. @ Mike

    Again we need to clarify that only Article 1 was voted on in language identical to the Assemblee's. It is one of the most controversial because it has the definition of marriage in it BUT it is also the simplest.
    The multiple details that could be amended are in the rest of the bill. That article 1 was voted on as such does not say anything about whether the final bills will be identical since most of the potential for change lay in other articles.
    The Senate has NOT voted yet on the overall bill and chances are there will be amendments here and there (particularly since there is a teensy bit of a Constitutional debate about the language on adoption so the left may want to tidy up the language to prevent a censure from the Conseil Constitutionel).
    We are not there yet although the final result is not in doubt.

    Posted by: titbug | Apr 9, 2013 8:56:41 PM

  4. Vive La France!!

    Posted by: Josh | Apr 9, 2013 8:58:49 PM

  5. This is a great step, but I suspect there may be violence in response to this no matter what happens with the other articles. If I were in France I'd be jubilant but also very much on guard.

    Posted by: Caliban | Apr 9, 2013 9:02:01 PM

  6. I think of the French as so sophisticated- why are they so far behind the curve on this? Almost as far as the US!

    Posted by: Rob | Apr 9, 2013 9:46:21 PM


    Posted by: Joseph Singer | Apr 9, 2013 9:46:39 PM

  8. @Rob: France is a predominantly Catholic country, with a much longer history of influence by the Catholic Church. The French Enlightenment and the birth of the French Republic, although incredibly transformative, do not automatically wipe away over a thousand years of religious indoctrination.

    So, although France is highly secular in its politics (arguably more so than in the US), Catholic lies and hypocrisy about children needing a mother and a father still manage to find their way into discussions of French family structure. Instead of explicit appeals to religion (which are frowned upon as kotowing to the Vatican), the argument is framed in terms of socialist perspectives on child-rearing to make them more palatable and seem more plausible. French society prides itself on child rearing services, and arguably has one of the most comprehensive social support programs for children.

    Posted by: atomic | Apr 9, 2013 9:58:37 PM

  9. @Rob

    It is a bit more complicated than "so far behind the curve".
    Several points:

    1) Ironically the fact they were fairly ahead of their time with their civil union ("PACS") probably had the effect of dulling the urgency of the issue for the gay community by 5 years.
    2) Simply put, the left was out of power for ten years between 2002 and 2012. Had Segolene Royal been elected instead of Sarkozy in 2007, then France would have been a pioneer. Gay marriage was not an electoral issue either way but was simply of victim of the happenings of French politics on other issues. French politics has been leaning right for a while on economic and crime issues so gay marriage was a victim of that.
    3) What has been surprising to me as a (still) French citizen but expatriate has been the vehemence of the opponents. Basically, there has been a purely tactical choice by the French right to amplify the cries of the traditional conservatives in order to reaffirm their unity (as there has been a lot of internal fights to decide who would be the next leader and they needed a topic on which they could "agree" against the Socialists) which in turn has made the opposition sound much higher than it really is in the media since that choice to politicize the debate has amplified the attacks. Support for same-sex marriage is still high but the debate has gotten very ugly and makes it sound much more controversial than it is in real life. I would point out for instance that my mother, a conservative voter with two gay sons, who until this year was neutral to positive on same-sex marriage (why would I care?) has declared herself against it now that it is a partisan issue and the right-wing parties she votes for (for other reasons) have made it a rallying cry against Hollande.
    In private, many many of the leaders of the French mainstream right-wing are confiding not to be bothered by gay marriage in the least. But they needed to energize that vocal conservative French right that had been a bit put off by Sarkozy's behavior,
    4) Also, never underestimate the French passion for elaborate theoretical and intellectual debates. If you read the arguments of the French opponents, it relies on arguments about gender theory, the conception of family, about History and philosophy ... This is catnip for French people - whether they are for or against it - which fuels the intensity of the debate. Here in the US the arguments have always been much more emotional on both sides (note too that this was an intentional strategy on the part of the French church that knew French people would not react well to arguments that relied on God and the Bible to be swayed).

    Posted by: titbug | Apr 9, 2013 9:59:52 PM

  10. Voulez-vous se marier avec moi, ce printemps?

    Posted by: Bob | Apr 9, 2013 10:24:24 PM

  11. Hooray! Why is there no share button for Facebook???

    Posted by: LeoMDK | Apr 9, 2013 10:36:23 PM

  12. Ooh la la! C'est si bonne!

    Posted by: Dback | Apr 9, 2013 10:37:55 PM

  13. Titbug and anyone else who knows about French law:

    Could you please explain the basis of the court challenge that the conservatives are going to bring? Is it a constitutional challenge or a challenge under the civil code? What would be the constitutional issue?

    And if the court challenge is brought under the civil code, how can that be a basis for invalidating this law? The civil code is a statute and this law also will be a statute; they would have equal status and, at least here in the US, one statute cannot invalidate another. In the US, if one statute conflicts with another, the court is to make every effort to interpret both in a way to minimize any conflict. If that is impossible, then it is a judicial rule that the later-passed statute governs over the earlier.

    Posted by: Sara | Apr 9, 2013 11:33:33 PM

  14. Good news. I second Sara's question for those who know French law. And I agree with Caliban, given hate crimes have risen 30% in France the past months during their marriage debate, the backlash could be very strong in the country and lead to more violence. If you're gay in France, be happy but also be on guard.

    Posted by: Francis #1 | Apr 9, 2013 11:52:33 PM

  15. @ Sara

    First of all, let's be clear. Protesting a law to the Conseil Constitutionnel is almost automatic for an opposition Party. Most are thrown away.
    Secondly, the rationale (that I shall explain below) is very very flimsy. The only reason why there would be even a doubt is that the Conseil Constitutionnel is a highly political institution.
    The Supreme Court here is of course politicized since the judges generally fit the ideology of the President that named them. In France it is worse: the "judges" are almost all former politicians. And most of them in the current CC (including the President of the Conseil who was a minister for right-wing governments several times) have been named by right-wing Presidents and the only two living former Presidents (who are automatic members of the council but who generally choose not to sit) are both right-wing. So the only reason why these really dubious grounds for striking the law would be if the CC was to make a highly political decision.
    As they have been very eager to look as apolitical as possible in the past few years in order to turn the institution into a proper Supreme Court with institutional legitimacy, I'd doubt they'd risk that. That said, they could strike individual articles - they have not shied away from that in the past.
    The actual grounds? Well, some wingnuts use very stupid rationales (like "marriage is a natural law that can't be changed by law") that won't fly.
    The only semi-legal-sounding attack that was reported on in the right-wing newspaper Le Figaro relies on the fact that the law does not explicitly say that full adoption rights are now open to same-sex couples (even though they mention individual rights). In the preamble it says that the effect of the law will be to do that and since it opens all marriage rights to gay couples, it will indeed. But the right wing party argues that by not explicitly writing it into the law, they conflict with the Civil Code by not resolving the fact there could now be more than two potential parents for some children.
    Let me explain: as the Civil Code is not being modified by this law (because, once again, the adoption rights are not explicitly detailed), the articles in it that say a child’s parents must be a woman and a man would stay (as recorded on the birth certificate). That would in turn create a difference between heterosexual adopting couples (who would take over the parental rights of the biological parents) and homosexual parents (where the child would have at least three parents if not four because the CC says there needs to be at least one different-sex parent). It would also create a difference between children with a man and a woman on their birth certificate who are adopted “individually” by the extra same-sex parent (as it does not change the filiation on the birth certificate and therefore does not impact the need for two biological parents of different genders) and children adopted by a gay couple directly. And that is unconstitutional because it means granting different children different rights – that people be treated the same by the law is generally the grounds on which the CC likes to strike down laws. The infamous 75% tax law for instance was not stricken because it taxed the rich too much but because the way it was designed meant treating different households differently (taxes are supposed to be calculated by household but that tax was designed to be on the individual). Equal treatment is an essential part of French Constitutional Law and the conflict between the Civil Code and what the Law would now imply would be unresolved and risk treating children differently whether they are raised by gay and straight couples or whether they were adopted in a “simple” additional individual adoption or by a couple.
    On top of it, the Constitution explicitly says that any change in filiation law must be done by law and because it is not made explicit, the CC could say that the legislative branch has left it to the executive to apply the law by inference and therefore it is an unconstitutional change in filiation law because coming from the wrong branch.
    Yes, it is as flimsy, arcane and as confusing as it sounds. And yes it is puzzling why the government is not trying to clean up the language to make it more robust.
    In any case, this only concerns the right of a couple to adopt - neither same-sex marriage, not simple adoption rights of gay people. There has not been any decent grounds to challenge those articles so those should stand either way, even if the CC wants to be a stickler for the equal treatment rule. All that it would mean would be they would have to go back and revote on the adoption rights, which would suck as this has been the most controversial part of the debate (by deliberate strategy of the opponents who knew the public was more unsure on adoption rights than it was on the right to marry). But no worries for same-sex marriage to be had.

    Posted by: titbug | Apr 10, 2013 12:27:28 AM

  16. Correction: there are three living former Presidents - all right-wing still.

    Posted by: titbug | Apr 10, 2013 12:28:27 AM

  17. Rob:
    The discussion there was not necessarily more sophisticated there than the US. Some senators used the same type of slippery slope arguments like marriage with the Eiffel Tower or animals. Presumably they are likewise fugged up, by God.

    Posted by: simon | Apr 10, 2013 1:06:39 AM

  18. @simon

    There were stupid arguments, bigoted remarks and plenty plenty stupid offensive things said in both countries (although as the marriage thing was not the focus of the opponents but rather the adoption thing, the slippery slope argument was not a focus of most of the opposition unlike here. Isolated individuals sure but the offensive things said were generally about gay parenthood).
    Anyway my point was that the overall orientation of the discussion was oriented towards big intellectual concepts in France in a way we have not seen as much of here.
    Not saying it is better or more sophisticated either way. Not saying there were no emotional appeals there and not saying there were no serious smart discussions here. But that the debate had a different focus here and there - not calmer in France, contrarily to my expectations, but the content was more "theoretical" and intellectual in nature. It wasn't always smart and it was often demoralizing for someone like me who always used to take price in France's more relaxed approach to social issues. But it was different.

    Posted by: titbug | Apr 10, 2013 1:20:09 AM

  19. When I was in Paris at a gay club, everyone was dancing with themselves in the mirror. I hope they've finally mastered the bathroom situation, and stopped wearing cologne as deodorant.

    Posted by: Deux | Apr 10, 2013 1:34:21 AM

  20. Americablog seems to have quite a comprehensive explanation of what happens next.

    Posted by: simon | Apr 10, 2013 1:39:19 AM

  21. An article from Le Monde in February seems to indicate that invalidation by the Constitutional Court is unlikely. The law would be implemented in June if the conservative opposition fails in its appeal to the court.

    "Surtout, le Conseil constitutionnel lui-même a déjà répondu en partie. Saisi en 2011, via une question prioritaire de constitutionnalité (QPC), il a estimé qu'il ne lui appartenait pas de décider de l'ouverture du mariage aux personnes de même sexe, jugeant que la chose n'était pas du ressort constitutionnel."

    Rough translation: Above all, the Constitutional Court itself has already partially found that it wasn't up to the court to decide to allow same sex couples to marry, since it wasn't under its jurisdiction.!2N07xYtBhFzgM/

    Even if the court is uncomfortable with the clause allowing adoption, which would be the most probable source of any objection, scrapping the whole law just for one provision would be the "nuclear option" and is not likely.

    Posted by: William | Apr 10, 2013 1:47:15 AM

  22. What both Americablog (in this weird sentence: "because the constitutional council has already said it will abide by whatever the legislature passes") and William are referring to is the case two months ago, similar to the Prop 8 case, where gay couples were asking the CC to declare same sex marriage a constitutional right regardless of the law. The CC replied it wasn't up to them and the law could choose to authorize it or not without either choice being unconstitutional. Which is why there would be no grounds to declare same-sex marriage unconstitutional since they already said the Assemblée could do it if they wished (just the same way they were allowed not to do it from a constitutional POV).

    However, the CC is perfectly free to strike down any other article of the law - and adoption rights are not a trivial part of the groundbreaking progress brought on by this piece of legislation. As William said, even if it quibbles with individual parts, it is highly unlikely to strike down the whole thing but I think Aravosis is being oddly flippant and does not seem to understand how judicial review works in either of our countries when he surmises "the court will just accept whatever the Assembly passes". Not quite. They could still be a headache although, as I explained earlier, the actual legal grounds for it are a bit flimsy.

    Posted by: titbug | Apr 10, 2013 1:56:25 AM

  23. Here's the link to the article from Le Monde which notes that in 2011 the Constitutional Court said it does not have jurisdiction over same sex marriage:

    The link I provided above from talks about the possible court objection to adoption.

    Posted by: William | Apr 10, 2013 2:02:42 AM

  24. @Titbug:

    Thank you for that excellent explanation. That really clarifies things a lot.

    However, I cannot comprehend why the government, having taken all the criticism and protest to get this done, is proceeding in a manner that leaves a major provision open to legal attack. What benefit is there to passing a law that is crafty and evasive about its objective? Everyone understands that the government is passing gay adoption, so why not actually write the law in a way that makes that clear and avoids the constitutional issue? It isn't like they are gaining anything politically by being vague, so why are they creating this unnecessary headache?

    Maybe I am cynical, but is it possible that the government is deliberately setting us up for defeat? In other words, are they deliberately passing the least popular provision in a vulnerable form so that it can get invalidated by the conservative-dominated council. That outcome might mollify the Right with a partial victory, while allowing the government to tell the Left that they did their best, but were thwarted by the council.

    If marriage passes but an adoption ban survives, I would consider this a poor victory. The adoption provision is not a minor add-on. It is major. An outright prohibition on adoption is grossly offensive and anti-gay. Even here in the conservative US of A, only a few states have ever banned gay adoption.

    Although gay adoption doesn't have majority support in France, support is still in the mid- or high-40s for every age group except 65+. Support is over 60% for those 18-24 according to this month's CSA poll.

    French LGBs have to insist that Hollande stand with them and not run away from the issue just because the polling is a few points below 50%. If French gay families cannot adopt, they will never be able to demonstrate to the French public that their misgivings are unwarranted. The French gays cannot accept marriage w/o adoption.

    Posted by: Sara | Apr 10, 2013 2:29:38 AM

  25. @Titbug:

    Two other points:

    If your description of the claim is accurate, it doesn't sound that flimsy to me. If "the Constitution explicitly says that any change in filiation law must be done by law" and if the law pending before the Senate essentially just says "parliament is hereby changing the filiation law in some fashion, but the President will fill in all the substantive changes by executive fiat," then that actually does seem unconstitutional.

    Regarding the protests: I found them shocking and revolting. As far as I know, those demonstrations in Paris were the largest public demonstrations specifically against gay rights and gay people in history. I cannot think of any other country that at any time, which has produced anti-gay demonstrations of that size. Not even in the depths of the American South during the Anita Bryant crusade or during the AIDS crisis or during the frenzy over Prop 8 did we see anything like what happened in Paris. There has never been a demonstration of that size and scope in Russia, Uganda or Iran. France now holds this odious distinction.

    And most revolting of all was the cheery, festive atmosphere, as if restricting the rights and life options for gay French citizens is an occasion for music, balloons, costumes and laughter. Even if Manif Pour Tous does not reflect majority opinion, it is a mark of shame for France and has changed the way I think about the country.

    Posted by: Sara | Apr 10, 2013 2:43:16 AM

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