Marriage for All: In France, Too, Love Was Worth a Celebration

When the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, Americans notably celebrated the news by adorning the White House with the colors of the rainbow. For its part, France did not celebrate equal rights in 2013.

Suddenly, the White House was adorned with the rainbow flag. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple: Friday evening’s illumination on the Washington building’s neoclassical façade was nothing if not full of symbolism. Just after the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision legalizing same-sex marriage was announced, the White House’s Twitter and Facebook avatars also donned the rainbow flag. #Lovewins. Barack Obama, the first sitting U.S. president to declare himself in favor of gay marriage, wants to show that he fully supports this decision, which represents, in his own words, “a victory for America.” “When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.”

In the end, love wins. Never mind that the U.S. president didn’t always support same-sex marriage with such enthusiasm. Never mind that in 2008, he uttered this sentence, which Christine Boutin would not have disowned: “I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. For me, as a Christian, it is also a sacred union.” Never mind that his point of view has evolved in response to supportive public opinion on the issue — according to a recent Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans are now in favor of gay marriage, when that number was only 40 percent in 2008. These things are of little importance because what matters is the celebration of marriage, and that was beautiful.

And in France? The comparison is painful. The opinion here is just as favorable — the French are now 67 percent in favor of marriage for all, which is nine points higher than in April 2013, despite the strong mobilization of the “antis.” Like Obama, Hollande was not a strong supporter of gay marriage. More indifferent than opposed, he has not been able to find the words to transform the legislative victory into a political and communications victory, instead oscillating between bungling and concessions to the “antis.”

In 2013, there was not a rainbow-bedecked Elysee, Palais-Bourbon or Arc de Triomphe. And three months after the law’s adoption, when Paris celebrated July 14 by dressing the Eiffel Tower in the colors of the rainbow, the mayor of Paris preferred to cut short any interpretation: It was nothing but a tribute to South Africa, the nation of Nelson Mandela. Nevertheless, we celebrated the motto of the republic: “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” (when 2012’s theme was disco). Why so much chilliness? Why, when we could have celebrated equal rights, did we cower over a fear of making waves? Why, when the battle is won, including in the court of public opinion, do we cede to the opposition?

It’s true that opening marriage up to people of the same sex did not fix all of the country’s problems, the unsustainable joblessness of the young, the country’s identity obsession constantly reignited by the far right. But celebrating marriage for all would have demonstrated a sense of an offensive, joyful, fraternal, optimistic, open republic, instead of a Maginot Line republic, hemmed in on itself and exclusionary toward its children. It is this contrast between two victories for equality that the U.S. images have captured: Marriage for all was worth a big celebration in the republic.

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