Saturday, June 26, 2004

The Long March

(A translation of a Le Monde editorial from June 26, 2004)

“Enough hypocrisy! Equality now!” With such a combative slogan, the Gay, Lesbian, Bi, and Transsexual Parade on Saturday, June 24, in Paris, will strike a demanding and strident tone. Yet during the past year, faced with homosexual associations’ demands for equality, society has evolved.

First, from Europe and California arose the debate on homosexual marriage, which re-emphasized the Right-Left divide. A Green, Noël Mamère, celebrated on June 5 in Bègles the first gay marriage. With some hesitation and despite the opposition of Lionel Jospin, the Socialist Party—which, at first, merely defended the PACS (Civil Solidarity Pacts) that it had instituted—eventually rallied behind Mamère. But the Right, with Jacques Chirac and Jean-Pierre Raffarin at the helm, adopted a hostile stance, even going so far as to sanction Mr. Mamère.

Since then, the divide has shifted, moving beyond the Right-Left division. Was this the result of the sanctioning-vote expressed in recent elections? Did it arise from a concern of alienating homosexuals in future elections? On the Right, support arose for gay marriage. And Mr. Raffarin—who welcomed homosexual associations on June 24—was not as autistic on this issue as he has been on others.

In a few weeks, Mr. Raffarin has increased his efforts, as if he wants to erase the image of intolerance projected by the Bègles event. A working group is now responsible for improving the PACS. The Cabinet adopted a proposal for a law against homophobia and discrimination. On the day before Gay Pride, the Prime Minister went even further, announcing a commission—like the one on secularism presided over by Bernard Stasi—that will consist of members of Parliament, intellectuals, and activists. This commission will be responsible for discussing and proposing questions on marriage and parenting. Gay associations, which have waited for Mr. Chirac to fulfill his promise of a “national debate,” praised the announcement.

Society is evolving, but slowly. The fight for equality and against discrimination also involves education and prevention. Schools, which too often create an ignorance of homosexuality which, in turn, leads to intolerance, must be the first line in this necessary lesson in tolerance.

Gay Pride will also allow AIDS groups to remind us that homosexuals are the group most affected by this growing epidemic. More than ever, as the French State seems to be distancing itself from this national (and even global) fight, the need for preventative measures at all levels is as much a collective responsibility as it is an individual one.

Gay rights groups are justifiably remaining vigilant. No schedule has been set for the commission announced by Mr. Raffarin. And a national debate requires a calmness on the part of both the Right and the Left. The fight again homophobia and discrimination may yet suffer setbacks in its long march forward.

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