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Thursday 25 April 2013

The heroine of French marriage equality

French lesbians and gays have a new heroine and her name is Christiane Taubira.

The French Minister for Justice is widely regarded as the person most responsible for pushing marriage equality through its fiery passage through the French parliament.

Her work has won her wider accolades too but it wasn't always thus, once she was regarded as a joke, if not a traitor to the left.

Taubira is that rarest of things, a black French politician. She has represented French Guiana, part of South America best known as the location for Europe's space launches and actually a department, part of metropolitan France, since 1993.

From a poor family and from the left she stood as a Presidential candidate for the Radical Party in 2003 to ensuing boos when the Socialist Party candidate came third, behind the National Front's Jean-Marie Le Pen. Her tiny vote was looked at as creating a national French embarrassment. Left wing allies have also called her a bully and authoritarian.

Made a Minister by Francois Hollande she has come back into favour, pushing forward a law last year that categorises the slave trade and slavery as crimes against humanity.

But it is her full-throated and eloquent push for marriage equality in the face of not just fierce, sometimes violent, opposition but also as well as tepid support of her own President and party, that has turned her into a modern day Marianne, the symbol of 'Liberté, égalité, fraternité'.

Her January 29 parliamentary speech, delivered without notes, was described as "fiery and lyrical". She laid into the right wing, who have used their opposition to marriage equality, a cynical coalition between the conservatives and the far-right National Front, as a way to bash the unpopular socialist President. She said:
What are gay couples’ marriages going to do to heterosexual couples’ marriages? Nothing. We are talking about the hypocrisy of those who to refuse to recognise homosexual families and the selfishness of those who believe that an institution of the Republic should be reserved for one type of citizen.

Your children and grandchildren already recognise these couples and families, and will do so more and more. You will be very uncomfortable when, out of curiosity, they read the transcripts of these debates.
In that speech she cited Guyanese writer Léon-Gontran Damas:
The act we will accomplish [in passing this law] is ‘as beautiful as a rose that the Eiffel Tower, at last, can see blooming.’ It is ‘as great as our need for fresh air.’ It is ‘as strong as a piercing cry in a long, long night’.
Throughout she has quoted literary heroes. In her final speech yesterday it was Nietzsche: Les vérités tuent, celles que l'on tait deviennent vénéneuses / Truth kills. And if you repress it, it will kill you.

Even her chief opponent, the conservative MP Jean-Frédéric Poisson, told Libération that he had "respect for [Taubira] as a fighter … and for her talent." Many ordinary French people have been won over by her ‘fou rire’ (crazy laugh), heard when she broke into uncontrollable laughter following yet another anti-gay statement in parliament by a right-wing MP during the often interminable and all-night manoeuvrings to delay passage of the law.

She is being compared to two previous symbols of the fight for social justice in France: Simone Veil, who, as minister of health, fought to legalise abortion in 1975, and Robert Badinter, a former justice minister who led the effort to abolish the death penalty in 1981.

In the absence of celebrity endorsement for marriage equality, a French curiosity compared to the US, Taubira has become the star for France's LGBT community.

Yannick Barbe, of news site Yagg, told France24:
You could call it Taubiramania. We were missing a charismatic figure in our fight for equal rights. Now we have one.
Yagg have been selling #TeamTaubira T-shirts.

There are a couple of constitutional hurdles but according to a promise from the Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, socialist mayor of the southern city of Montpellier, Hélène Mandroux, should officiate the first gay marriage "probably in late June or early July."

Watch video and read English translation of Taubira’s Speech to the National Assembly after the passage of the bill opening marriage and adoption to same-sex couples after the jump:

Mister President, Mister Prime Minister, Congresswomen and Congressmen,

I must admit that I am overwhelmed by emotion. Still, I hope that I’ll be able to say a few words. I am extremely thankful to the Prime Minister and the President of the Republic for giving us the opportunity to pass this beautiful reform. We passed it with force. We passed it with the constant support of the government. We passed it with your active participation. You all improved this bill. You enriched it. You were there during the long nights of debate. You were there. You were stoic, sometimes in the face of hateful speeches that were against our deeply held values. But there were also great and beautiful expressions of democracy. In the opposition, we had speeches from congresspeople who fought against this bill and who made their firm objections known through their arguments. We are grateful to them as well, because their objections will also be recorded by history.

In passing this law, we know that we built something together. We know that we did not take anything away from anyone. When the first signs of dissent sprung up in society, we asked ourselves questions.  We asked ourselves if our beliefs were enough. We attentively listened to the fears and protests of the opposition. We responded. Lucidly. Clearly. Frankly. And we pointed them towards the content of the bill. We asked ourselves what the most precious things in the lives of heterosexual couples and their families are. And we did not touch those things.

That said, we have improved the exercise of parental authority. We have made it easier to share parental authority. We have protected thousands of children. We have made it easier to maintain the link between children and their parents in the case of conflict between the parents, even outside of the institution of marriage. We have made it easier for future brides and grooms to choose the location of their marriage.

We know that we have not taken anything away from anyone. On the contrary, we have recognized the full rights of our fellow citizens, whose rights were being surreptitiously undermined.

We have granted full rights to all couples.

Without any doubt, the bill that we have passed today is a generous bill. And we are so very thankful.

We also know that we must speak to the men and the women who were hurt in this process by words, gestures or actions. We know that we must tell them that they are fully a part of this society. We know that the responsibility of our public power is to fight against discrimination. Our Republic demands this. Fighting against discrimination means opening equal rights to all of our fellow citizens. It means sharing one of our Republic’s most beautiful institutions with our fellow citizens.

Tonight, we would especially like to speak to the adolescents in our country - boys and girls - who have been hurt during this debate. We speak to those children who found themselves in the midst of deep and frightening chaos. They discovered a society where a wave of selfishness led many to loudly protest against the rights of others.

We simply want to tell these adolescents that they are at home in our society.

We recognize them in this society. We recognize their contradictions, talents, shortcomings, qualities and fragility. These are the things that make each and every one of us unique. Regardless of any sexual issues, each one of us is unique. That is the strength of our society. It is even the basis of our society. It is the basis of our relationship to society. So we tell these adolescents: if you find yourself losing hope, sweep all of those thoughts out of your minds. They are only words. One day they will float away. Stay with us and keep your heads high. You have nothing to be ashamed of. We say that loud and clear, with our all the strength in our voices. As Nietzsche said: Truth kills. And if you repress it, it will kill you.

Thank you all.

Translated from French by Joseph McShea.

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