By not allowing homosexual couples the right to marry, the majority of European countries are placing the preservation of a social order founded on the difference between the genders (seen as incontestable) above the freedom of the individual. And in so doing they are contravening the principle of equal treatment for all citizens. What is this ancestral fear of homosexuality that appears to be haunting the thoughts of these countries’ leaders?
Back to the origins of marriage
Most people would be surprised to learn that homosexuals have been getting married since time immemorial (or near enough). Just not to each other. History is full of these men, married by default, forced to lead a double life by society: respectable husbands during the day, gay lovers at night.
Does marriage have a sacred value which cannot be touched? Just by using basic micro-economic reasoning we can answer to those in favour of traditional marriages: marriage is nothing more than a privileged position afforded by the State to monogamous, heterosexual couples. In other words, it’s a right bestowed on some, but not on others, and it’s a right which offers fairly substantial financial and material benefits. Doesn’t this fit the definition of what most European institutions usually call “discrimination”?
The invasion of “lightweight” marriages in Europe… from the West.
On 5 July 2001, the European Parliament, aware of the discrimination suffered by gays and lesbians in virtually every Member State, voted in a recommendation calling on governments to at least recognise the right of homosexuals to cohabitation.
As they so often do, the Netherlands led the way. From the introduction of the ‘registered partnership’ at the start of 1998, to laws allowing homosexuals to legally marry and adopt children as joint parents, abolishing unequal treatment of couples has been carried out in a gradual but rapid manner. In Belgium, the situation was also resolved fairly quickly – the adoption of the law of 13 February 2003, allowing same-sex couples to be married, followed on from the introduction of ‘legal cohabitation’ in 1998.
Apart from these two countries, civil marriage between two people of the same sex is still not permitted in Member States. The ‘registered partnerships’ or ‘civil pacts’ that can be found in Denmark (1989), Sweden (1994), France (1999) and Germany bear a striking resemblance to “lightweight” marriages, as does a current UK draft law. However, Danish, British and Swedish homosexuals can legally adopt. As for Austria, a law is being drafted there, entitled ZIP (for Zivilpakt).
The countries of Southern Europe are not far behind – in Spain, the new PM has promised to adapt civil law so that homosexuals can marry as of 2005, and in Portugal, a law of 2001 has introduced a system of cohabitation that doesn’t distinguish between the genders.
Do the current changes in our societies promise a better future in which sexuality will rhyme with equality? Let’s not get too excited just yet. Last year, a Council of Europe report showed just how far there is to go along the road to abolishing discrimination against gays and lesbians in the majority of its member states. Not to mention the situation in Bulgaria, an EU candidate country, where homosexuality is still considered a crime.
The conservatives finally show their true colours
In France the question of homosexual marriage is on everybody’s lips. The debate has redrawn the political battle lines – the traditional left-wing/right-wing divide has become blurred in favour of a distinction between, on the one hand, the tenants of social liberalism who want to see change, and on the other, those who are nostalgic for a society based on the traditional nuclear family and who are stuck in their prejudices.
It all started when a French mayor, Noël Mamère (Green Party), first announced then celebrated a marriage between two men. This caused him to be suspended from his duties for a month. Widely covered in the media, the debate spread like wildfire. Some said they were “for”, others “against”, even on the Left. Probably because they feared that homosexual marriage would pave the way for legalising adoption by same-sex couples. Just like in the Netherlands, you mean? Why, in Holland you won’t find better-behaved children than those of same-sex couples! Whereas in France, thousands of homosexual couples are already raising their children in perfect happiness, but without any rights whatsoever. Surely, this is the most unacceptable state of affairs? Because without an appropriate legal framework, this new family grouping has no leg to stand on during difficult times: if one of the couple should die, the second is left without any rights over the child, even if the deceased was their legal guardian. And they’ll be waiting a long time if they want any benefits. But nobody ever mentions that.
Basically, right-wing and left-wing French politicians like homosexuals - as long as they continue to be discriminated against.
Europe is currently living in a fiction – a social fiction, based on the reification of gender differences and the belief in a symbolic order of existence. Under the pretext that the law must protect this symbolic order, the Member States (with a few rare exceptions) still refuse to adopt laws on the question of homosexual marriage. And the European law courts, whose main role it is to protect the freedom of the individual, are letting them get away with it (2).
(2) In a ruling of 31 May 2001, the Court of Justice of the European Communities stated that member countries were not bound to recognise registered partnerships or same-sex marriages in other member states.