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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage (SSM) and civil unions In France

Part 1: 1999 to mid-2012: Developments
in civil unions, and a proposed SSM bill

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History of same-sex marriage (SSM) & civil unions in France prior to 2012-SEP:

  • 1999: Over the opposition of Roman Catholic Church and many social and religious conservatives, France created a system of civil unions for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. They are called a "pacte civil de solidarité," or PACS. Civil unions and marriages are both solemnized and registered with the government in town halls. However, married couples generally later go to a church, synagogue, mosque or temple to go through a religious sacrament or ritual. Civil unions were created with the intent of giving same-sex couples many of the financial benefits of marriage.

    Wilfried Rault, a sociologist at the National Institute for Demographic Studies said that marriage is still viewed by many French couples as a "heavy and invasive" institution with deep ties to Christianity. This has resulted in an increasing percentage of opposite-sex couples choosing civil unions rather than marriages.

  • 2010: There were about two civil unions being solemnized for every three marriages. On the order of 95% of the couples who chose a civil union are opposite sex-couples who simply prefer civil unions over marriages. 1 Meanwhile, same-sex couples have were not allowed to marry and were not permitted to adopt children.

  • 2011-JAN-28: The French Constitutional Council issued a ruling in a case brought by a lesbian couple with four children. The couple asked that the country's existing marriage laws be changed to allow them and other same-sex couples to marry. The court ruled that the existing law's ban on same-sex marriages was constitutional and and that it was up to the Legislature to determine if and when SSMs should be legalized. In Europe at that time, seven countries -- Belgium, Iceland, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden -- had made marriages available to same-sex couples. 2

  • 2011-JUN-15. Deputies voted on a bill proposed by the Socialist Party to legalize SSM. The vote was 222 for and 293 against. Most of the deputies from the ruling conservative UMP party voted against the bill; most of the Socialists voted in favor. Christian Vanneste, a deputy from the UMP party said:

    "Marriage between two persons of the same sex was an anthropological aberration because society must ensure its sustainability." 3

    His appears to believe that if same-sex couples were allowed to marry, that the total number of children born in France would decrease, and that the population might dwindle over time. This is a frightening prediction. To determine whether it is likely, consider the following:

    The distribution of sexual orientation among French adults is probably about 90% heterosexual, 5% gay or lesbian, and 5% bisexual as it seems to be in all other countries. If same-sex couples were allowed to marry:

    • The vast majority of couples are those in which both spouses have a heterosexual orientation. They would not be affected by marriage equality. They would continue to marry and have children as before.

    • Lesbian couples would then be able to marry. Many would be encouraged by the stability and status of marriage to have children through artificial insemination or adoption.

    • Gay couples would then be able to marry. Many would be encouraged by the stability and status of marriage to have children by employing a female surrogate to have children through artificial insemination. Some would adopt.

    • Most bisexuals would continue to marry persons of the opposite gender. This has been the experience in other countries that have introduced marriage equality. Given the choice, most bisexuals realize that a marriage to a person of the opposite gender offers far fewer problems due to widespread homophobia in the culture. Many such couples would have children as before.

    • A few bisexuals would then choose to marry a spouse of the same gender:

      • Some of these couples formed by two men would be encouraged by the increased stability and status of marriage to have children by employing a female surrogate to have children through artificial insemination. Some would adopt.

      • Some of the couples formed by two women would be encouraged by the increased stability and status of marriage to have children through artificial insemination or adoption.

      • Some same-sex couples would elect to have no children.

    • Thus, by legalizing SSM, opposite-sex couples would continue procreating as before. Gay and lesbian couples would be able to marry and would be more likely to have children. Bisexuals could then marry persons of the same or opposite gender. It is not obvious whether those same-sex couples would have more or fewer children than they would have had if marriage inequality was continued. There is a high probability that the country's birth rate would increase or at least stay the same after the introduction of SSM.

      Vanneste's comment appears illogical. It might have been motivated by simple prejudice, as many Socialist deputies suggested at the time.

  • 2012-MAY: A federal election resulted in the Socialist Party achieving a majority in the lower house of parliament. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and his Socialist party had promised to legalize SSM if elected, but had not committed to a specific time frame to implementing marriage equality.

  • 2012-JUN-29: Prime Minister Ayrault announced that his government:

    "... has made it an objective for the next few months to work on implementing its campaign commitments on the fight against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity." 4

  • 2012-AUG-15: Back in 1638 CE, King Louis XII started a tradition by ordering churches to pray every year on this day, which is the anniversary of when the Virgin Mary is believed to have been assumed bodily into Heaven, according to the Roman Catholic Church. That tradition fell into disuse after World War II.

    The prayer was revived this year in order to condemn the proposed legalization of SSM and the adoption of children by same sex couples. Church spokesperson, Monsignor Bernard Podvin, said they wanted to "raise the consciousness of public opinion about grave social choices." The prayer expresses the wish that newly elected members of the Legislature will act:

    "... so that their sense of the common good will overcome special demands. [This would include support for traditional families] throughout their lives, especially in painful moments."

    To oppose adoption by same-sex couples, the prayer also asks that children should:

    "... cease to be objects of the desires and conflicts of adults and fully benefit from the love of a father and a mother."

    Civitas, a group of traditionalist Catholics, plans to play a very active role in campaigning against the coming legalization of same-sex marriage. 5,6

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Scott Sayare & Maia de la Baume, "In France, Civil Unions Gain Favor Over Marriage," New York Times, 2010-DEC-16, at:
  2. Joe Carter, "In France, Civil Unions are Replacing Marriage," FirstThings, 2010-DEC-30, at:
  3. "French parliament rejects gay marriage bill," China Daily, 2011-JUN-15, at:
  4. Nicholas Vinocur, "France to pass gay marriage, adoption law," Reuters, 2012-JUN-29, at:
  5. Tom Heneghan, "French Catholic Church 'Prayer For France' Updated To Be Against Gay Marriage And Euthanasia," Huffington Post, 2012-AUG-06, at:
  6. Tom Heneghan, "French Catholic Church pro-marriage prayer provokes gay rights row, Reuters, 2012-AUG-15, at:

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Copyright © 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2012-SEP-26
Latest updated: 2012-NOV-20
Author: B.A. Robinson
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