The French have a way…

December 18, 2010

There are still a lot of people in here in the U.S.  who, while professing belief in full equality for all persons regardless of sexual orientation, are still a bit queasy about calling same-sex couples “marriages.” Mostly these are older folk, but I have at least one friend in this category who is younger than me (and gay, no less). Why not just have “civil unions,” they say, as long as they are given all the same legal rights as marriages?

Apart from the fact that the train has just about left the station – support for same-sex marriage  is so overwhelming among young people that eventual victory for that cause is inevitable – I believe there is evidence from NJ, a “civil union” state, that just having a law saying the two institutions are equal is not sufficient in practice to get all the petty bureaucrats involved in enforcing the law on the same page. As long as same-sex couples are called by a different name, they can’t count on being taken as seriously.

But back in the days before the momentum for same sex marriage had begun to build, I did think that “civil unions” might work – if they were available also to heterosexual couples who wanted, for whatever reason, to avoid the baggage involved in the word “marriage.” (Or take the word “marriage” out of the law entirely and make “civil union” the overall category, with traditional church solemnnizations as a subset enforceable only to the extent that they conform to whatever regulations apply to “civil unions.” That might still work.) But when I mentioned the possibility of  heterosexual civil unions to people no one seemed to think the idea would catch on – why would a couple who could marry settle for anything less?

Well it turns out (according to the NT Times the other day) that the idea is catching on in France. Back in the 90’s when they instituted civil unions (“civil solidarity pacts,” they’re called) – with at least all the financial rights of marriages (I think there’s some difference involving adoptions though) – they made the law gender-neutral because that’s how French civil law works, they won’t recognize any subset of the population as having special rights. And what has happened over the years since is that increasing numbers of opp0site-sex couples have been deciding they preferred to be civilly united rather than married: nowadays there are 2 new civil pacts for every 3 marriages, and before long civil pacts will be in the majority.

One factor in this preference is that civil pacts are easier to dissolve… but it is also true that a good number of people just don’t like the word “marriage” and would rather do without it if they can have all the benefits.

It takes all kinds…


One Response to “The French have a way…”

  1. jeburciaga Says:

    Keeping in mind the French have another saying, one quite old–“There are three sexes in France: men, women, and clergy.” The latter present no problem, being married to God, in the Church.
    For other matters, see Ichabod’s Kin at

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