On September 14, 2013, I had the privilege of attending the “Summer University” of the Manif pour Tous. The latter is the French grassroots movement that sprang up last year as a counterrevolution against President Hollande’s same-sex marriage law. While I had been involved in the Manif since January, it was at the September conference that I saw the larger picture of what is happening in Europe. This year I also traveled to Brussels, Strasbourg, and London for the first time, on a mission to forge a transnational alliance for children’s rights.
Those who have defended marriage until now may feel beleaguered. They may be irritated with the press’s misconstruing of Pope Francis’s multiple comments about compassion toward homosexuals. Nevertheless, Europe ought not to be cause for pessimism. On the contrary, Europe has an active underground building Defense of the Family 2.0.
England and France—Carthaginian or Pyrrhic Victories for the LGBT Lobby?
It no longer makes sense to speak of an LGBT “community” or “movement” but rather a world-historical lobby, a specific cadre flush with money, positioned strategically close to the same centers of power that oversaw empires in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: Washington, Paris, and London.
Supreme Court rulings in the Windsor and Hollingsworth cases arguably opened a pathway for the United States to have nationally legalized same-sex marriage within a few years. Hence, the lobby has conquered the three nations that speak most often in universal terms regarding human rights. Moreover, the lobby has laid down English, French, and American laws that protect LGBT citizens from hostile criticism. In these major centers of power, home to the Guardian and Libération and New York Times, the philosophy championed by the lobby is poised to play offense without worrying about defense.
The natural next step is to expand their influence by exporting their movement to less- prominent wealthy nations (Australia, Italy, etc), then Eastern Europe, then finally the vast range of nations known as the “third world.” In my Public Discourse essay yesterday, I examined the global implications of the LGBT lobby along the axis of North/South relations. It is fair to characterize the global “ligbitist” movement as, in many ways, a new imperialism. Leftist critics such as Jasbir Puar and Judith Butler made this critique before I did when they came up with the term “pinkwashing.”
But the world, once conquered, rarely stays complacent for very long. Imperial power rests quite often on ideas having been transformed into state ideologies. Ideologies develop contradictions and blind spots; they become corrupted by arrogant self-interest and an easy target for intellectual counterinsurgencies.
In his Philosophy of History, G.W.F. Hegel tried to explain the inevitable boomerang effect of ideological power and its backlash through the allegory of a man building a house to keep out the natural elements (wind, water, fire). All houses decay and collapse against the very things that gave them their raison d’être. “The substance of the act,” Hegel writes, “recoils upon the perpetrator, reacts upon him with destructive tendency.”
In other words, ideologies rise and fall. The weaker the foundations, and the poorer the reasons for an ideology’s claims to universality, the more quickly the fall will come.
The LGBT lobby stumbled unwittingly into the postcolonial metropolises at their most “post.” The United States just narrowly avoided a default on its debt. The leader of the ascendant Front National party in France, glowing from a stunning sweep of regional elections, prophesied that the European Union would crumble “like the Soviet Union.” A little over two years ago, London itself was burning in riots that were globally televised.
In “winning” the United States, England, and France, the ligbitists acquired what riflemen call a “silhouette”: a visible shape that makes them a target. Their finances are visible for the entire world to see, as are the deals they make to get their laws passed. Their colluders (presidents, CEOs, etc.) are fair game for criticism and even invective. Put simply, they have become “the Man.” And we know what forms in reaction to “the Man”: the underground.
The French Countermovement
The Manif pour Tous was born and evolved within an accelerated time frame. This movement first formed against same-sex marriage. It stunned the world with its massive mobilizations on November 17, January 13, March 24, and May 26. Then, it faced a number of serious setbacks. The group lost its primary struggle when the “Taubira Law,” named after Attorney General Christiane Taubira, passed, legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption.
The March 24 rally, the largest, was fraught with controversy. Some factions of the Manif clashed with police, got tear-gassed, and received the scorn of other factions. The media demonized the whole movement. Soon three female leaders, each charismatic, splintered off and transformed the Manif from one unified front into three competing insurgencies: the French Spring, led by Beatrice Bourges; the Future for All, led by Frigide Barjot; and the Manif, led by Ludovine de la Rochère. Barjot blamed the French Spring for provoking the tear gas attack on March 24. Then, after ousting Bourges’ people, Barjot was also ousted from the Manif because she was pushing civil unions for same-sex couples, something that most in the Manif found (quite understandably) pointless. Same-sex marriage was the law in France, so there had to be a shift of focus.
Despite friction among Bourges, Barjot, and de la Rochère, there have been concerted efforts not to become divided, and also not to become consumed by any of the mainstream French political parties or by the Catholic Church. Rather than rue the lost battle over same-sex marriage, the Manif has shifted to very specific aims going forward: blocking the legalization of sperm banking for lesbians, blocking gestational surrogacy, and pushing back against Education Minister Vincent Peillon’s attempt to impose “gender theory” as a countrywide curriculum.
With the change in focus came a change in approach. The Manif has proved that it can bring millions of French people to the streets. But Ludovine de la Rochère and her allies also determined that it was necessary to formulate a clear intellectual firewall against further imposition of the ligbitist agenda on France.
At the Summer University, when I was introduced, a journalist posed the question to me: “How does it feel to be coming from a nation we consider our friend, but which we know forced this homosexual ideology on to us?” I tried to deflect the criticism by musing, “If Judith Butler in France is America’s fault, it is only because Michel Foucault in America is France’s fault.”
The point was clear to me that the French see homosexual advocacy and gender theory as a “made in USA” concept forced onto them by powerful, well-funded lobbyists who care more for serving elite interests than for protecting French heritage. This sense is fortified by the surprising number of French homosexuals, such as Jean-Pier Delaume-Myard and Philippe Ariño, who remain doggedly opposed to same-sex marriage as an American construct.
The French understood that same-sex marriage was problematic mostly because of what the downstream consequences would be. When the French hear “the redefinition of family,” they worry more overtly than Americans do about what this means the nation is passing on to children. To buy and sell children is fundamentally repugnant to a nation that cherishes its nationalized Civil Code and takes “patrimony” very seriously. (It is not a country that bows to the free market the way Americans do, so the “let me do as I wish if I have the money for it” argument fails to win them over.)
Consider that when the Nazis entered France in 1940, one of the top priorities for Parisians was to empty the Louvre and store France’s treasures safely. Legacy and inheritance are not things the French see as optional or editable based on individual tastes. Their famous pride is real, and it is rooted in the sense that the nation is a family and the French language a powerful bond to their history. As Elisabeth Monfort, cofounder of the Nouveau Feminisme Européen, said at the Summer University, “There was no word for ‘gender’ in French, so the Americans forced us to change our word for ‘genre’ to suit their ideology.” The crowd booed at the mention.
The English Underground
If France is a shining example and the envy of Europe, the English opponents of the ligbitist agenda are shadowy resisters, still struggling for their footing. When I traveled to London to meet with about eight organizations concerned about the impact of the same-sex marriage law, I stayed with a descendant of one of the first publishers of Shakespeare’s complete works. We had to rush through Westminster Abbey in only twenty minutes between meetings, but I got to see the bust of one of my host’s ancestors. He went to Eton and Oxford. Tradition was a powerful presence.
I cannot explain the difference between France and England, but the strong sense of tradition in the United Kingdom simply never sparked the fireworks that went off across the Channel. Anglicans in England are still dumbstruck by the speed with which the same-sex marriage law passed earlier this year. Many of them are impatient with the leadership of the Anglican Church, seeing clear signs that their bishops are interested in avoiding controversy. Traditionalists in England are equally enraged at the mosques in London (I met with two Muslim groups), because Muslim leaders specifically told their rank and file to remain quiet about same-sex marriage in order not to anger the Labor Party leaders who have political ties to prominent imams. One sheik I met in London for tea and crumpets (no joke) had actually been driven out of his mosque for defying those standing orders and circulating pamphlets in a Muslim neighborhood, warning residents to voice their opposition to same-sex marriage based on Islamic teaching.
Britain’s aristocracy caved quickly in the House of Lords, scuttling any hopes of an eleventh-hour veto on the same-sex marriage law last summer. Then the House of Windsor failed traditionalists as well, for the Queen signed on without any fuss. One disadvantage faced by the English is owed to Henry VIII: without a large Catholic population, there simply wasn’t the massive edifice upon which activists, even if mostly secular, could rely for manpower and assistance, as there was in France.
The English are already seeing the visible signs of the ligbitist agenda, and there is cause for doom and gloom. A same-sex couple is suing to force the Anglican Church to marry them. Another lesbian couple, I found out from a source I can’t name, has already prepared to sue the Anglican Church in order to force it to baptize the baby they conceived by sperm-banking. Ex-gay counselor Mike Davidson just lost his license after a long battle with medical licensing authorities.
Yet England is not a place to be written off yet, for a few inspiring reasons. First, it has as its secret weapon the Commonwealth, which includes nations that share the British educational system, in many cases, but remain staunchly dedicated to the role of a father and a mother. India, Malawi, and Barbados do not seem eager to jump on the ligbitist bandwagon; though New Zealand passed same-sex marriage this year, in Australia the tide has turned against it in recent elections. Many Anglican groups I met are considering an underground movement to shift the central authority of the church away from Canterbury to one of the more conservative nations in Africa, formerly colonized by England. The Church of England may one day have its citadel in Jamaica or Nigeria–who knows? This is truly the postcolonial age.
I met with a Welsh activist living in Scotland, and received news that cultural autonomy remains a rallying point in both Wales and Scotland, not to mention Northern Ireland, which is very conservative. For the Welsh, the language issue is key, mirroring the concern of French activists. When the LGBT movement spread into Wales, there was pressure on Welsh language experts to redesign the Welsh dictionary to accommodate words about LGBT ideology that came from the United States.
While at first glance England might offer fewer signs of hope than does France, there is nonetheless cause for optimism, for in both London and Paris, the underground is forming that can structure a counter-polemic. In both cities, activists are combining the frustrations of religious believers with the secular language of human rights. In both cities, First-World activists are learning to re-conceptualize their identities as people who have been disenfranchised, demonstrating that they have more in common with their former colonial subjects than they do with the neoliberal elites in London and Paris who have allied with American corporate interests to stifle any opposition to the globalization of LGBT ideology.
Robert Oscar Lopez edits English Manif.