Following the French government's sly fast-tracking the so-called "marriage pour tous" bill through the Assembly and Senate and moving the date of the final reading forward by a month to April 23, thereby halving the debating time, French pro-family demonstrators have taken to the streets in a succession of spontaneous protests.
Various French pro-family blogs report a heavy-handed attitude by the police, with peaceful demonstrators even being hauled off to police cells for several hours on spurious grounds, before being released. One demonstrator was told by the gendarmerie that he was not allowed to walk home carrying an unfurled Tricolour. Demonstrations in France are usually tightly regulated, requiring advance notice to be given to the local police, however escalating fury at the government's steamrolling the "loi Taubira" legislation (nicknamed after the Minister of Justice who proposed it) has prompted dozens of large-scale protests in Paris and throughout the country. Roads have been blocked by "go slow" corteges of cars, and tens of thousands of demonstrators have made their displeasure felt in a peaceful and non-violent way. None of the protests that has taken place since Friday have been OKed with the police, nor do they have any one source (although the "Manif Pour Tous" network of organisations are a common thread, as evidenced by the well produced banners and placards: as one might expect, when the French "do " protest they do it with style). Twitter, Facebook and other new media have rallied crowds who - unlike their counterparts in the London riots of 2011, despite being mobilised by new technology and motivated by discontent - have caused no criminal damage and committed no acts of violence. They have, however, been clear in their demands: don't change the definition of marriage - for the sake of the family and the sake of children.
Despite the numbers involved, the media here in the UK appears almost oblivious to the protests: both the BBC and the Telegraph felt that some new detail in the tired breast implant story was worth leading with, while I had to dig for anything on the Manif Pour Tous and even when I did find the story the slant favoured the gay lobby point of view with only a nod to the pro-family protests emphasising that they were "right wing" provoked "scuffles with police" and quoted one leftist politician hinting darkly about "nazi salutes". The BBC didn't carry it at all and a search for showed that the last (and only) report on the Manif Pour Tous was in Januay and it grumbled uncomfortably about the fact that while there seemed to be lot of people protesting the redefinition of marriage legistion, obviously the young people they talked to were all in favour of it. The sot of fair reporting we've come to expect from our national treasure. If I had more time I would fisk the article, it's begging for it.
So that's it then: being against the redefinition of marriage makes you a thug and a crypto-nazi to boot. I'm not being entirely frivolous here: for the last year or so there has been a sinister undercurrent in French politics attempting to blacken the reputation (and thereby the credibility) of traditionalist Catholic groups in France. Consider the government's list of groups to be monitored for allegedly displaying a "religious pathology": this list specifically targeted Traditional Catholics (who, thanks largely to a relationship with the French state characterised by overt mutual distrust, are much better organised than their Britsh counterparts who tend to pretend to like and get on with the government even when it is clear that the government is unjust and immoral). Whether or not this set a precendent for a US Army TrainingBrief last week categorising Catholics as "extremists" ("defined by beliefs, attitudes or feelings far removed from the 'ordinary") is a moot point but certainly represents a trend that deserves to be scrutinised. In France, however, the most recent outrage is a TV "expose"of a Traditionalist Catholic group where two journalists had infiltated the group over the course of a year to expose the "truth" about the Traditionalist movement in France. The programme was aired on state owned France2 television station and Daniel Hamiche, who is behind the Riposte-Catholique (think a French version of Rorate crossed with the LMS Chairman's blog) was called into the studio to discuss what he thought was to be a documentary on Traditional Catholicism in France. He describes what happened as follows:
It was not [as he had been led to believe] an update on the traditionalist movement in France, but a charge - which was not that of the Light Cavalry, believe me - against Catholic traditionalism.
As indicated in the programme's title, journalists were "infiltrators" in a group calling themselves [Catholic] "traditionalist" in Bordeaux for more than a year in an attempt to find evidence against the group in particular, but also against [Catholic] Traditionalism generally. This group, Dies Irae - its members call it "DI" - which I did not know even existed, is actually a small formation of the radical right. By infiltrating the group and using hidden cameras, the reporters gave viewers a really disreputable image of this organisation.
The essence of the report is: "traditionalists = Nazis", schools indpendent of state control = incubators o fascism; priests in cassocks = chaplains LVF [the division of the Nazi army made up of French volunteers n WW2]. It was "reductio ad hitlerum" ...
What's happening in France is in many ways a mirror to what is happening here in the UK - our government is on the cusp of pushing through unwanted legislation that will redefine marriage and by extension change the legal framework of the family forever. Do we have the determination and organisation demonstrated by French Catholics? I don't think that we currently do and I think that our relationship with the state goes some way to explain that. More to the point, can we generate the kind of passion and commitment that the French have shown if required in the near future? And even if we can, will our government listen? Unlikely. Last week Larousse - France's O.E.D. - thrust two obscene fingers up at democracy and changed the definiton of marriage from a union of "a man and a woman" to a union of "two persons"for the 2014 edition of the book that defines the French language. Like David Cameron's bogus "consultation" on the redefinition of marriage, the powers that be in France are confident of the outcome. But are they as confident of the public's reaction to that outcome? Judging from recent comments by Manuel Valls, the interior minister, that "extemist groups" protesting the loi Taubra are seeking to "destabilise the Republic" I reckon that the French government is deeply uneasy by the alliance of peaceful, ordinary people who have come out to protest in a measured and ordered way, particularly as one of their main demands is for a referendum on the matter. I'm interested to see how this develops as it will inevitably have repecussions for the UK.
Redefining marriage is a risky and reckless social experiment, and seems an odd novelty on which to focus given the dire state of our economy and the unease British society in general. As the placards waved in Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Perpignan and throughout France say: "Leave marriage alone and concentrate on unemployment!"