Saturday, December 11, 2004

RENNES, France — As France celebrates the fifth anniversary of its “Pacte Civil de Solidarite” (PaCS for short; in English, Civil Solidarity Pact) — a law that gives same-sex couples certain social, legal and financial benefits — the government is preparing changes to satisfy additional demands of homosexuals without opening the debate they seek regarding homosexual “marriage,” still illegal in France.

“I am amazed of the adaptability of our society. The PaCS is now part of the base of the social contract,” said Roselyne Bachelot, a conservative politician who voted for the PaCS in the national Parliament in 1999 — against the views of her Union for a Popular Movement — the UMP party of President Jacques Chirac, whose opposition has since changed.

“In five years, it has become a triumph,” she recently told Le Monde newspaper.

Since the law was adopted on Nov. 15, 1999, more than 130,000 such contracts have been signed nationwide, according to the Justice Ministry.

Homosexual couples are not the only ones involved: Any two unmarried persons who want to live together can contract a PaCS, on condition they share common housing and are neither direct ascendants or descendants (mother, grandfather or child), nor too close relatives (brother, uncle or niece).

According to a French Parliament report issued two years after the law’s enactment, apparently about 60 percent of Civil Solidarity Pacts were concluded by heterosexual couples.

“With its recognition in the civil code, the PaCS is putting an end to the monopoly marriage used to have in organizing the common social life of any two persons,” said the parliamentary report in November 2001.

However, the PaCS is more than just an alternative between marriage and cohabitation, as is the case for heterosexual couples.

Because homosexual “marriages” are not recognized in France, the PaCS gives same-sex couples legal, fiscal and social advantages they never had before.

For instance, if both people involved work for the same company, they are entitled to take their vacations at the same time. Civil servants also have priority in job transfers to relocate with their partner.

“The PaCS is, however, going far beyond these simple rights,” concluded the parliamentary report. “For homosexuals, it is a real recognition. Despite the homophobic outburst it provoked, the PaCS unquestionably made homosexuality something ordinary,” it concluded.

According to various opinion surveys, more and more French people are in favor of the Civil Solidarity Pact. In September 1998, when the debates in Parliament were very heated, popular support for the idea of the Civil Solidarity Pact was at 49 percent, and by 2003 it was 70 percent.

Among homosexuals, attitudes are also changing. They are now more and more in favor of modifying the Civil Solidarity Pact. For instance, many are calling for the possibility to inherit a portion of the pension of a partner who dies. They also seek parity with married couples regarding inheritance-tax rules.

While marriages are conducted in City Halls, Civil Solidarity Pacts are concluded in courts of first instance, something that advocates for homosexuals would also like to change.

In the 2005 finance bill adopted last month, Nicolas Sarkozy, then economic minister, abolished the three-year period needed before people who have concluded a PaCS can benefit from joint taxation. This was the first reform of the original Civil Solidarity Pact.

Major changes may occur next spring. In November, a working group set up by the Justice Ministry composed of lawyers and homosexual-rights associations issued recommendations for improving the PaCS.

For instance, the working group advocates mention of the Civil Solidarity Pact on the birth certificate of each person entering such a legal arrangement, but without naming the partner to avoid disclosing whether the union was homosexual. In France, men and women getting married have the event, date, location and partner’s name noted on their own birth certificates.

Justice Minister Dominique Perben is expected to introduce the reform in Parliament within three months.

However, some homosexual organizations see improvement of the PaCS as perhaps a tactic to avoid a debate on same-sex “marriage” and the right of homosexuals to have children.

“Improving the PaCS will never be an answer to the growing claim of same-sex couples who want to marry,” said a press release from the Inter-LGBT (Interassociative Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Trans) association, which groups the main associations defending homosexuals.

“We have not forgotten the promise made last summer of a national debate on marriage and the right to have children, and we are asking the government to organize this debate,” said Inter-LGBT.

Most French politicians do not consider the adoption of the Civil Solidarity Pact as the first step toward legalizing same-sex “marriage,” as has been done in the Netherlands, Belgium and, soon, Spain.

“I think we should not mix these two different things. Experience shows that the PaCS could be improved, and I would like us to do so. But it should not lead to a travesty of marriage,” said President Jacques Chirac in his Bastille Day interview on French television last July 14.

Two months earlier, former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin had already come out against same-sex “marriage,” saying that, as an institution, marriage is in essence the union between a man and a woman.

“It is possible to condemn and to fight homophobia without backing homosexual marriage,” he wrote in a French Sunday newspaper.

Last June, however, Green party politician Noel Mamere, the mayor of Begles in southern France, set off a political uproar when he united two homosexual men in the country’s first homosexual “marriage.”

“I think today, we are acting toward tolerance. Your wedding is the first, and I hope it will soon become commonplace as it is in Belgium, in the Netherlands and in Spain,” he said at the end of the civil ceremony.

For breaking the law, Mr. Mamere was suspended from his mayoral duties for a month and the “marriage” was invalidated.

“Same-sex marriage cannot be reduced to a simple ceremony. This legitimate right to marriage has to be part of a global reform of the law that would take into account matters related to the right to have children,” insisted the Gay and Lesbian Center of Paris.

The question of having children is central to the debate in France on same-sex “marriage.”

“A child is not an asset that a heterosexual or homosexual couple can obtain. It is a person born from the union of a man and a woman, whatever kind the union is,” wrote Mr. Jospin in his column last May.

However, in July for the first time a French court recognized the joint parental authority of a lesbian couple who had given birth to three girls by artificial insemination.

Because single women are not allowed in France to resort to this form of procreation, tens of thousands of French lesbian couples are having children outside France.

Some go to Belgium for artificial inseminations while others try to do their own insemination at home, using kitchen implements.

Even if the July court decision opened new opportunities for homosexual couples to be recognized as parents, it is not a recognition of their right to bear children.

Only the adoption of the offspring of the partner, or a joint adoption, would give equal rights to both parents. But at this time, adoption is legal only for heterosexual couples.

“The opening of marriage to homosexual couples is widely debated in society. The reform of the PaCS cannot result in neglecting this debate,” said the authors of the November recommendations to the Justice Ministry.

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