Last week, New Zealand legalized same-sex marriage, becoming the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to do so. In a video that should wring tears from the hardest heart, the spectators and Parliament burst into applause and cheers when the bill passed, then broke into song (“Pokarekare Ana“, a famous love song in the language of the indigenous Maori).
With this victory, New Zealand became the thirteenth country to pass marriage equality, just after Uruguay (!). In spite of the eighteen states and counting that now have some form of recognition for same-sex ccouples, it’s unlikely that the United States will join that list any time soon, barring some unlikely and dramatic decision by the Supreme Court. The American religious right isn’t as influential as they once were, but they still have enough power to do the one thing our democracy makes very easy, which is to gum up the works and block any progress.
And now another country has joined the club: in France, the National Assembly passed a marriage equality bill yesterday, after overcoming the delaying tactics of opponents who tried to stall it with hundreds of amendments. Barring an intervention by France’s Constitutional Court, which all have agreed is extremely unlikely, same-sex marriage will begin there this summer.
And that leads to an unfortunate footnote: the news isn’t all good. French religious conservatives – yes, they do exist – weren’t influential enough to stop the bill, but they’re furious at its passage, and have been turning out in massive protest marches. And last week a Rubicon was crossed, as opponents of the bill openly threatened violence if they couldn’t get their way at the ballot box. Frigide Barjot, head of the anti-marriage-equality group Manif Pour Tous, says that French president François Hollande “wants blood, and he will get it”. Two other right-wing politicians called the bill “an incitement to civil war” and said that passing it would be “risking a violent confrontation with the French people”. Rhetoric like this almost certainly factored into the brutal beating of two gay men on the streets of Paris and thugs attacking gay bars in Lille and Bordeaux earlier this month.
But here’s the part that will really amaze you. The Catholic archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, spoke out – not to condemn the violence, but to insinuate that it was justified!
“This is the way a violent society develops,” he told the spring meeting of the French bishops’ conference. “Society has lost its capacity of integration and especially its ability to blend differences in a common project.”
The archbishop’s argument, essentially, is that instituting same-sex marriage will be the end of gender norms, and this will lead to anger and frustration which will inevitably break out into violence. While not explicitly approving of violence, he’s certainly not making any real effort to condemn it, and he even seems sympathetic to the presumed motives.
Lastly, there are some other stories I have to mention, all with a common theme: on Long Island, a gay man named Nicholas Coppola was fired from several volunteer posts at his Catholic parish after he married his partner, and in Ohio, a Catholic school fired a lesbian teacher after her sexuality was mentioned in her mother’s obituary. In both cases, local people started petitions to get their neighbors reinstated – which is a laudable sentiment, and if the Catholic church were a democracy, as opposed to the absolute monarchy it is, it might matter. (In the Coppola case, the diocese basically dismissed the petition out of hand.)
And lastly, in South Dakota, a young nondenominational Christian named Dannika Nash wrote a letter about how anti-gay bigotry was destroying Christianity. In response, her own church fired her from her summer job as a camp counselor. It’s an almost too-perfect case of shooting the messenger.
As I’ve said before, if the Catholic and evangelical right wants to make this their rhetorical hill to die on, I welcome it. This is a battlefield where we should be more than happy to meet them, because they’re losing very badly. The harder they fight against equality, the longer they try to hold back the tide of progress, the more bigoted they end up looking. Whether they know it or not, they’ve already lost; the only question is how much further damage they’ll do to themselves with their last-stand obstinacy. And speaking as an atheist, I’m pleased to say that the answer appears to be a lot!