For Same-Sex Couples in France, Marriage May Soon be the Only Option for Equality

Same sex marriage may soon be a reality in France, but some same-sex couples say true equality is still out of reach.

Less than a year after French President François Hollande made the legalization of same-sex marriage a major platform of his 2012 presidential campaign, marriage equality is well on its way to becoming law. But the law only makes room for equal rights within the confines of marriage, an institution that many French are turning away from.

Pascale Soprano, 37, and her companion Julie, 36, live in Paris with their two children, Swann and Louna. Pascale gave birth to Swann, and Julie carried Louna. The couple has been in the legally recognized Civil Solidarity Pact, abbreviated as PACS, since 2004.

The French goveronment introduced PACS in 1999. Until now, PACS has been the next best thing to legalized marriage for same-sex couples.

But Soprano cannot enroll her daughter Louna in school. And Julie cannot authorize medical care for Swann. This is because PACS does not allow one partner to adopt the other’s child.

The legalization of same-sex marriage in France will automatically grant married homosexual couples the right to adopt. And for Soprano, it is adoption, and not the marriage itself, that is important.

Soprano’s attitude toward marriage is consistent with current demographic trends in France.

According to Eurostat, the agency responsible for compiling and maintaining statistics for the European Union, the marriage rate in France has dropped steadily since the year 2000. There were 305,234 marriages in France in 2000, compared to a preliminary estimate of 241,000 in 2012.

According to France’s National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, called INSEE, as the number of marriages declines, the number of PACS increases. In 2000, over 22,000 couples entered a PACS civil union. That number rose to over 205,000 in 2010, the last year for which INSEE has data. Four percent of PACS in 2010 were between same-sex partners.

Civil unions and cohabitation have become the new norm among heterosexual couples in France. And this trend extends all the way to the Elysée. President Hollande is not married to his current partner, journalist Valérie Trierweiler. Nor was he married to his former partner of over thirty years, former presidential candidate and mother to his four children, Séglène Royale.

The legalization of same-sex marriage is a symbolic step, albeit an important one, in the fight for equality, but for people like Soprano, the symbolism is far from enough.

Soprano simply wants the chance to create a family. Marriage will finally give her the opportunity to do that, but unlike for heterosexual couples, it will be her only option.

“If the government does not authorize adoption outside of marriage, we will have no choice but to marry, and that’s what we’ll do in order to start the adoption procedure,” Soprano wrote in an email.

It is unlikely that the French government will legalize adoption by unmarried gay couples. According to a poll conducted in January by the French online daily Atlantico, sixty-three percent of French citizens support marriage equality while only forty-nine percent support adoption rights by same-sex couples.

Unlike in the United States where opponents of same-sex marriage question the morality of homosexuality, in France, the most vocal opposition tends to focus on adoption.

According to Eurostat, fifty-five percent of children born in France in 2010 were born outside of marriage, either to couples or to single mothers. But those born to heterosexual couples still have a biological relationship to both parents. The hesitation toward allowing an individual to legally adopt his or her same-sex partner’s biological children indicates a reluctance to accept the changing way families are created.

According to sociologist Éric Fassin, the difference between the U.S. and France lies in the two countries’ respective ideals of nationality. In the United States, children born on American soil are granted automatic citizenship. But in France, Fassin says it is kinship that conveys nationality.

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