Trigger Warning for the links!
I was well aware of the demonstration against gay marriage and adoption, organized by the Catholic group Civitas, before it took place last Sunday in Paris and all over France. I knew that the intégristes are quite active in France; I’ve seen them march against abortion just a few weeks ago. Even though there were more of them than I’m comfortable with, the group wasn’t that impressive in size, considering that abortion is still quite a controversial issue, and unfortunately not only among religious fanatics.
Gay marriage, on the other hand, is kind of a no-brainer to me; that means I see absolutely no reason for why this hasn’t been written into law at least a decade ago. I’ve been convinced that society in general is more than ready to embrace the opening of marriage to same-sex couples; most people I know are in favour of it or at least indifferent. To cut to the chase: I decided not to go to the protest, because I was sure that not many people would turn up and the religious fundamentalists would simply make a fool of themselves.
Boy, was I wrong.
100.000 people came out against gay marriage all over France, 70.000 in Paris alone. Their slogans were so ridiculously dated and conservative that I didn’t think they were possible anymore in Western Europe in 2012: “The family is sacred.” “A child needs one mommy and one daddy.” Not only are these statements inherently homophobic (regardless of what the protesters claim), they also reflect a worldview that is completely backwards and has nothing to do with the reality of many French families, gay or straight, who live in single-parent households. Their understanding of what it means to be a family is stuck in a religion-based traditionalism, which runs counter to the basic concept of French laicité (the separation of state and religion that the conservative French suddenly cling to so tightly whenever Muslims want to build a mosque or serve halal meat).
Thousands of people who come out to deny others their basic human right to start a family of their own are hateful bullies who need to know that they are not welcome in an open pluralistic society. I shamefully admit that I failed to show solidarity when it was needed. Others, however, did make that effort, organized protests prior to the hate parade and came out on Sunday as well to stand up for LGBT rights.
Among them were also the notorious activists of Femen, the Ukrainian feminists who like to stage publicity stunts including nudity and other provocations in order to draw attention to certain issues. I have mentioned it before and I’ll do it again: I am not a fan of their activism nor their often rather simplistic approach to complicated issues. Their protests have been annoying, deflecting and outright offensive, even though I mostly agree with their basic arguments. That said, however, they have the right to show up and do their stunts wherever they like, and they are brave enough to face the judicial consequences for their actions, which is more than most of us can say. They have been provoking and offending people – sometimes justified, sometimes not – and everyone is free to criticise and condemn them for that. What is never okay, though, is to attack them physically and to harm their well-being, which is what happened on Sunday.
Femen joined the demonstration as we have come to expect: dressed up as half-naked nuns, covered in slogans such as “In Gay We Trust” and prepped with spray cans labelled “Sperm” (According to the media I’ve been following, the substance is described as a “white powder” and not mace, as some idiots have claimed. As these pictures suggest, mace was used against Femen, not by them.) Were they offensive and provocative? Certainly to those demonstrators. But did they deserve to be beaten, chased and kicked? Did the journalists who happened to film there?
Because that is precisely what happened, and that to me is the true outrage, the true provocation: that a group of people protesting to “preserve families”, who are supposedly concerned for the well-being of other children, would beat up women in front of their own kids. I am appalled and deeply concerned about this vicious behavior. I hope there will be consequences for these bullies and that the French government will not veer from its course to legalise the right of same-sex couples to marry and have children. The worst parents are not gay or straight; they are those who promote violence as conflict-solving.