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French court says "non" to gay marriage

France hasn't been as progressive as neighbors on same-sex unions, despite public ambivalence.

Corinne Cestino Sophie Hasslauer same-sex marriage
Corinne Cestino (left) and Sophie Hasslauer (right) wait outside the Constitutional Council on Jan. 18, 2011, in Paris, as the French top court decides whether or not at two women they can marry. (Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)

PARIS, France — Lesbian couple Sophie Hasslauer and Corinne Cestino thought France's Constitution Council might give them the news they had been waiting for.

But asked if the two could say "I do," the high court answered Friday with an emphatic "non" and said parliament must to settle the thorny issue of gay marriage.

France is not particularly socially conservative, but unlike neighboring predominantly Catholic countries such as Belgium and Spain, it still bans same-sex marriage.

In France, homosexuals can only sign a civil union, called PACS, which was allowed in 1999.

“France is so old-fashioned on this issue, it is completely ridiculous,” said Cestino, who is a pediatrician. “It does not make any sense, when you see what happens in other European countries.”

“Two hundred years ago, France was a lighthouse to the world.” said Emmanuel Ludot, the couple's attorney. “Today, we are the world's shame, we are has-beens.”

Hasslauer and Cestino, both in their 40s, have been living together for more than a decade, and are raising four children together.

Their oldest child, Millie, was conceived with a male. The couple has since had twin boys and another son conceived through anonymous artificial insemination.

Earlier this week, at the family's home near Reims, the boys helped set the table in the kitchen before dinner, while Millie warmed up lasagna.

After dinner, children and parents snuggled on the sofa while reading graphic novels.

“It is essential for our children’s balance to know that their parents have the same rights as other parents,” said Hasslauer who is an artist and a part-time professor.

According to Hasslauer and Cestino — who have a civil union — only marriage could effectively protect their family.

“We want to get married because this is the best solution to legitimize our family,” said Cestino. “If we could get married, then our children would have two parents. It would no longer be a matter of who is the biological mother, we would both be their parents. It would make everything much more simple.”

“We asked our mayor to get married,” said Hasslauer, “but of course, our request was declined. We decided we could not accept it. We also asked to both have parental authority for our children, and it was refused to us as well. But, in reality, our children only exist because our coupling exists.”

Even though same-sex marriage is illegal in France, the French seem to be ready for it. Public opinion has changed in recent years.

According to a TNS Sofres poll, today 58 percent of the French support same-sex marriage, up from 45 percent just five years ago. The court could have approved the marriage of Hasslauer and Cestino; instead it said France's constitution prohibits same-sex marriage and that it will be up to lawmakers to legalize such unions.

But according to Ludot, French politicians refuse to make gay marriage legal because it is too risky for them.

“In our political system,” said Ludot, “politicians are always on campaign. They always think of their actions’ electoral consequences. That makes it impossible for them to vote for courageous laws.”

“Politicians think there is more to lose than to gain if they legalize gay marriage,” agreed Bartholome Girard, president of SOS Homophobie in Paris.

According to Patrick Festy, a professor at the National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED), it came as a surprise to many when heavily Catholic Spain set out to allow gay marriage. The election of left-wing president Jose Luis Zapatero in 2004, he said, triggered a social revolution there.

“In the 1990s, France went from having a left-wing government to a right-wing one,” said Festy, “which may have slowed things down when it comes to gay rights.”

Spain’s social and artistic revolution, known as La Movida and best personified by legendary filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, was instrumental in redefining Spanish society, said Ludot, Hasslauer and Cestino's attorney.

“When Spain came out of the fascist dictatorship of General Franco,” said Ludot, “people were craving freedom and they made a great leap forward.”

Today, the battle to legalize homosexual marriage may have taken a blow, but according to Ludot, it is not over yet.

“The Constitutional Council has handed the issue over to politicians,” said Ludot, “it is now up to the MPs to do their job and come up with a law that is in tune with today’s society.”

“We will keep on fighting,” said Cestino. “We will keep on with the legal procedures. And little by little, things will improve, that is the way it works.”

“This is unavoidable,” added Ludot, “sooner or later homosexuals in France will be allowed to get married.”

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/france/110128/same-sex-marriage-gay-rights-france