Gay marriage and the French Catholic vote

In light of the media’s fascination with interplay between sex, the Catholic Church and politics, I am always surprised at its lack of curiosity when these worlds collide overseas.

The 6 May 2012 French presidential election is a case in point. Socialist Party (PS) candidate François Hollande captured 18 million votes to incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy’s 16.8 million: 51.64 per cent to 48.36 per cent. The role religion played in the election has received little play in the U.S. save for conservative bloggers, who reported that 93 per cent of France’s 2 million Muslim voters went for Hollande.

Some liberal blogs are warning of the resurgence of a Catholic far right. Writing in the Huffington Post, Eric Margolis argued the National Front was one of the winners in the election, as a Socialist government would invigorate the conservative fringe parties at the expense of Sarkozy’s center-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) party.

But the National Front — xenophobic, racist, violently anti-Muslim and anti-Europe — is poison to moderate French and many members of the UMP. To no surprise, UMP may split, or disintegrate, over the issue of joining forces with the National Front, seen by many French as a reborn fascist movement. In fact, it’s not really fascist, but an avatar of the old 1940 far-right, ultra-conservative, ultra-Catholic movement.

It may very well transpire that a Socialist victory will empower the parties of the far right, but I believe Margolis is off the mark in lumping the far-right with the ultra-Catholic movement (and what exactly is the ultra-Catholic movement anyway?). As I noted in a pre-election post, the French Catholic Church did not endorse any one candidate for the election, but it made it clear that the policies of the National Front were not supported by the Church.

The first article I have seen that looked into how Catholics voted came in the Catholic weekly, La Vie — and its results were a surprise as they closely matched observations made by the editor of GetReligion Terry Mattingly about the American Catholic vote.

Roman Catholics who “go to mass as least once a month” voted 4 to 1 in favor of Sarkozy: 79 per cent to 21 per cent, according to a poll commissioned by Le Vie and conducted by the Harris Institute. Catholics who went to Mass less than once a month, voted 62 per cent to 38 per cent for Sarkozy. Those who self-identified as Catholics but who did not attend mass  showed the same voting patters as the French population at large. Those who identified themselves as atheists voted 70 per cent to 30 per cent in favor of Hollande.

In an odd twist to the conventional media wisdom, Sarkozy increased his margins among mass-going Catholics in this election form 70 per cent in 2005 to 79 per cent this month. What was odd about this increase was that Hollande campaigned on a theme of personal probity — fostering a dour frugal image in contrast to the flamboyant  Sarkozy.

Gay marriage was one of the reasons for the Catholic rejection of Hollande, the survey found.  In an interview with the French gay-oriented glossy magazine TÊTU Hollande stated he would honor the PS’s campaign promise to legalize gay marriage and gay adoption — measures rejected by the UMP-dominated French parliament in 2011. The Harris survey found that mass-going Catholics were not keen on France’s new Socialist President because he was “in favor of same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.”

Last month the LA Times reported that:

A recent poll for the Journal du Dimanche newspaper found that 64% of French disapproved of Sarkozy. That’s higher even than the rating for the unpopular Valery Giscard d’Estaing during his tenure. Giscard was the last president to lose his reelection bid, in 1981.

The truth is that Sarkozy, 57, has never succeeded in shaking off the negative impression he made at the beginning of his five-year term, that the conservative leader was the “president of the rich.” That image plays badly, especially given that a few months after he took office, the global recession hit, leading to belt-tightening measures.

Before the 2007 election, he had hinted that he would go into retreat in the days before the transfer of power to consider how to lead France. Instead, he threw a party at Fouquet’s, one of the most ostentatious restaurants in France. Then he spent a few days vacationing in the Mediterranean on the yacht of a billionaire businessman friend.

Sarkozy, the French were told, had no hang-ups about celebrity or money; instead of reassuring them, however, the flashy watches and aviator sunglasses simply cemented his reputation as the “bling-bling” president.

Distaste among French voters concerned with social values — the segment where most mass-going Catholic voters can be found — for Sarkozy’s lifestyle appears not to have translated into more votes for Hollande.

La Vie explained the “massive” move to the right by practicing Catholics by stating:

Among the many factors to consider – sociological, economic and cultural – should undoubtedly include anthropological and ethical convictions of these strong Christians.

And for French Catholics gay marriage appeared to be key amongst these convictions. The American Catholic voter matrix created by Tmatt — with the Catholic vote divided amongst Ex-Catholics, Cultural Catholics, Sunday-morning American Catholics and “Sweats the details” Roman Catholic — appears to hold true for France also. 

It may be that the sort of article that looks at the big picture of values voters is beyond a newspaper and lies in the realm of a monthly. However, I would welcome an acknowledgement in the American press that the issues that animate our political debates are not unique to these shores.

What say you GetReligion readers? Is this merely interesting ephemera, or a news angle that should be developed further?

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  • ms Catholic state

    Why must Catholics always support a secular left/right vision of government?! Why isn’t there a party with a Catholic based vision of society….or why aren’t there efforts to re-make Sarkozy’s party in this image?!

    Are we always to be the hand-maidens of our secular masters and ‘betters’?!

  • Katie Murphy- Ex catholic faminly

    The beauty of the whole scene is the per EWTN, only about 13% of Catholics go to church on any regular basis, which btw is consistent with almost all of Western Europe.

    Expect to see gay marriage in France,and most likely Germany as well within a year

    73% of the Irish people – the most catholic nation in the world, support changing the constitution to replace civil unions with marriage

    England and Scotland also are headed for gay marriage within a couple years – its seen as a conservative value – people taking care of each other in a lifelong commitment so the govt doesn’t have to have bureaucrats doing that sort of thing.

    Finland is also on the brink, Denmark – RPs become marriage as of June 15.

    Similar things happening in Latin America as well.

    Don’t like gay marriage – your free to go live in Saudi Land where hell will freeze over before they let gays marry. Even though there, its proposed that women can vote in local elections beginning in 2015 – an enormous change for that nation.

  • http://atheistweb.org Chris Ranmore

    The Catholic hierarchy’s active and bitter campaign against gay marriage provides a clear illustration of it’s dogmatism and lack of compassion. This lesson is not lost on young people who are comfortable and sympathetic towards their gay friends and relatives, now living openly in same-sex relationships. As a result, this generation will largely abandon the church and find their spiritual fulfilment elsewhere.

  • Cojuanco

    Katie: The same France whose parliament just last year voted down a proposal to do just that, with IIRC cross-party support? Perhaps, but it’s not a sure thing.


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