The international press was shocked on November 17, 2012, when hundreds of thousands of French citizens took to the streets to fight against a parliamentary bill redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships and legalizing same-sex adoption. Less than a decade ago, France symbolized all that American conservatives despised and all that American liberals praised. Now we should learn from them.

Consider that in March 2003, the White House, irritated with France’s opposition to the American invasion of Iraq, changed the name of French fries to “freedom fries” in three Washington cafeterias. Four years later, not only did Michael Moore idealize France in Sicko for its seemingly endless capacity for romance, but Bill Maher also broadcast a three-minute ode to the French for their seemingly sterile politics:

Maybe the high turnout [of voters in France] has something to do with the fact that the French candidates are never asked where they stand on evolution, prayer in school, abortions, stem cell research, or gay marriage.

How wrong Maher was. So were the conservatives who dismissed the French fifth republic as a wasteland of unfettered socialism. In the haze of these Francophobic outbursts, few could have anticipated that France would host the West’s last stand for the traditional family.

Start your day with Public Discourse

Sign up and get our daily essays sent straight to your inbox.

France offers activists an example of a country that can question gay rhetoric without engaging in the violent homophobia one sees in the repressive laws of Putin’s Russia. Those who feel no ill will toward LGBT people, but who believe that there is something special about male-female relationships—marriages—especially because of their role in rearing children, must watch closely what unfurls. Edged by Spain and Portugal to its south and Belgium and the Netherlands to its northeast, France is surrounded by countries that have redefined marriage and treated gay parenting with indifference. Yet France is mounting an opposition.

As reported in the Guardian, France’s northern neighbor, the United Kingdom, is under increasing pressure to redefine marriages, with polls indicating that now 62 percent of British voters support the idea. With so many of France’s peer nations marching to the beat of “marriage for all,” most would have expected the French to say “à chacun son goût” to such issues, and go back to minding their own business.

Instead, the French have hit the streets in what can only be called a tidal wave. News about the various alliances forming against the redefinition of marriage and same-sex adoption emerges in snippets at lightning speed. Much of it is not translated into English. To help Americans learn what is happening, I have put up this website offering quick translations.

Yesterday, January 13, occurred the much-anticipated “manif pour tous” or “march for all,” pitted against the pro-same-sex marriage movement called “marriage for all.” Buses and trains from all over France carried hundreds of thousands to Paris to demand a referendum.

While a bill is scheduled for a vote in Parliament on January 29, an alliance of religious, secularist, straight, gay, rightist, leftist, and non-partisan sources has amassed to halt the bill’s passage.

The three most prominent spokespeople are unlikely characters: “Frigide Barjot,” a bleached-blonde comedienne famous for hanging out with male strippers at the Banana Café, and author of “Confessions of a Branchée Catholic”; Xavier Bongibault, a young gay atheist in Paris who fights against the “deep homophobia” of the LGBT movement, believing it disgraces gays to assume that they cannot have political views “except according to their sexual urges”; and Laurence Tcheng, a disaffected leftist who voted for President François Hollande but disdains the way that the same-sex marriage bill is being forced through Parliament.

In a poll conducted in December, fully 69 percent of French people wanted a referendum on “marriage for all” rather than an act of Parliament, with 42 percent seeing this as an “absolute” demand. Right-wing citizens are most adamant, but even a comfortable majority of the French left opposes “marriage for all” without a rigorous debate on what this will mean for families, and, most of all, for children.

If the thunderous calls for a referendum are honored by Hollande, it is not at all clear that his “marriage for all” push will have clear sailing. The “march for all” movement spearheaded by Barjot, Bongibault, and Tcheng has flipped public opinion. In June 2011, according to this aggregate of polls, 63 percent of French citizens favored same-sex marriage and 58 percent thought it would be fine for gay couples to adopt children.

After the marches, vigorous debates, and probing coverage in the press, the public is wavering. As of January 11, 2013, 54 percent oppose gay adoption. In addition, 53 percent oppose “medically assisted procreation” such as surrogacy and insemination, while the number favoring same-sex marriage, still high at 60 percent, has declined slightly. Many predict that a true national debate, which protesters allege has not been allowed yet, will awaken many citizens to the counter-arguments against redefining marriage, and push the number even lower.

At a protest in Lyon, dissenters gagged themselves with black scarves below an effigy of Hollande, while a ringleader with a bullhorn raged about the lack of true debate:

We’ve had phony discussion […] Only one third of the […] hearings were allotted for those opposed to the law. Of these most were clergy. As if only clergy were against the law. No! Citizens of all backgrounds, and in ever greater numbers, oppose this law. Mr. President, in the name of our Republic, in the name of the rights of man, in the name of general interest, let all of society have its say. Do not deny us the guarantee of a full-fledged serious debate by branding us as homophobes if we oppose this. Let’s have a true debate […] It is scandalous and unprofessional, unconscionable, that you have welcomed radical LGBT activists to the Elysee and you have not received anybody opposed to this law. Hundreds of thousands of French people say now, we must open the debate!

History must note that France was the first country to reject the facile charge of “homophobe” as a way of silencing people’s doubts. Nobody in the US has been able to break the stranglehold of threats, character assassination, and emotional blackmail that has allowed LGBT activists to call those who doubt their proposals bigots (and get them fired, incidentally).

Since the late 1990s, France has offered same-sex couples “PACs” or civil unions, so the issue of lovers living together is not the powder keg. Though still mostly (if nominally) Catholic, the French are by and large willing to stay out of the bedrooms of people who love one another, irrespective of sex.

Such live-and-let-live philosophy does not apply when the citizens see a threat to the nation’s children. Here is where Americans must follow their playbook closely, because it is probably the surest way to break the stalemate in the United States about marriage and the Fourteenth Amendment.

In France, a repeating refrain is “the rights of children trump the right to children.” It is a pithy but forceful philosophical claim, uttered in voices ranging from gay mayor “Jean-Marc” to auteur Jean-Dominique Bunel, who revealed in Le Figaro that two lesbians raised him. For most of France, LGBT rights cross the line when they mean that same-sex couples have a “right” to children—something that both France’s grand rabbi, Gilles Bernheim, and Louis-Georges Barret, Vice President of the Christian Democratic Party, have refuted as a right at all.

The right to a child, according to Bernheim and Barret, does not exist; it would mean changing children, as Bernheim says, from “child as subject” to “child as object.” Bunel states in Figaro that such a shift violates international law by denying the right of children to have a mother and a father. Bunel writes:

I oppose this bill because in the name of a fight against inequalities and discrimination, we would refuse a child one of its most sacred rights, upon which a universal, millennia-old tradition rests, that of being raised by a father and a mother. You see, two rights collide: the right to a child for gays, and the right of a child to a mother and father. The international convention on the rights of the child stipulates in effect that “the highest interest of the child should be a primary consideration” (Article 3, section 1).

Bunel suggests that laws allowing gay people to create unnecessary same-sex households for unwitting children should be brought to Europe’s high court of human rights.

Homovox is a web portal for testimonials from gay men who oppose the “marriage for all” bill. Hervé Jordain, a Marseille homosexual, says on Homovox, “It is utterly abnormal to uphold one’s ‘right’ to have a child … A child is not a cute little doll you go out and buy on December 15.”

Echoing this growing sense among France’s gay men that the metropolitan movement for gay parenting has fostered a selfishness and destructive disregard for others among LGBT leaders, “Benoît,” a 43-year-old gay business owner, says, “this bill is a dupe … it is a lie, an error, a farce. It is like looking for a magic spell to say gay and straight people are the same.”

Emmanuel, a gay art historian, says bluntly, “Why must we say gay and straight couples are the same? They are not equal.” Even more eloquently, gay blogger Philippe Ariño cautions, “equality is not a good thing by itself. There are bad forms of equality. We call that conformism, uniformity, banality.” “Jean-Pier,” a bespectacled 49-year-old screenwriter, offers an even more personal admonition:

Twenty five years ago—remember, I’m 49—I truly wondered about having a child. Like everyone else, I wanted to have a child; it was a question of transmitting my heritage. But then I realized very quickly that if I were going to have a child that way, it would be for the wrong reasons. […]The desire for a child, for me, is fulfilled. I am a writer and creator. I create stories for children. That’s a way to address children and respect them. That’s an act of love for them.

As a bisexual, raised by a lesbian and her lover (read my account of “growing up with two moms” here), with decades of experience in gay American discourse, I find this dissension among France’s gays utterly inexplicable. A fellow American Thinker contributor, who is also gay and worries about same-sex parenting, admitted to me after seeing these shocking translations: “This would be unthinkable in the United States. If you were gay and said such things in America, you would be flayed alive. You’d never get published. You’d never work again.”

The gay men like Xavier Bongibault who have taken to the streets against gay adoption are indeed indecipherable from the vantage point of American LGBT discourse. In the United States, gay camps bicker with each other over policy differences, tone, and whose associations are most respectable; they rarely touch on existential schisms. In America the rightist dissenters from gay orthodoxy, embodied by GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans, fight with Democratic activists over taxes and defense policy. In the end, the gay right is an upper-class version of the gay left: All the identity politics and sense of entitlement, with none of the social-justice consciousness that leftists demand in order to be acknowledged as part of their club.

Far-left dissenters from gay orthodoxy in the United States criticize gay neoliberalism but would not, generally, be caught dead allying with right-wing opponents of same-sex marriage in the way that Xavier Bongibault has marched alongside French clergy.

The best parallel one could offer is that many Jewish commentators are particularly harsh in their critiques of Israel not in spite of, but rather because of, the Jewish state’s claim of acting in their name. The same dynamic may explain the plethora of gay men who have not only supported but orchestrated the march on Paris to protest gay adoption. The idea of instrumentalizing children’s lives as a way of fulfilling gay aspirations is so abhorrent to a foundational Gallic sense of decency that the gay men who are being invoked to license it seem first in line to denounce it.

It is time for Americans to follow France’s lead. Frigide Barjot, Laurence Tcheng, and Xavier Bongibault have presented us with a game changer. They have given us the necessary rhetoric and republican logic to present a strong case against redefining marriage. They have provided us a playbook for mobilizing across party lines. They’ve presented colorful characters whom we can emulate. I will keep translating the news as it comes in, in the hope that American defenders of the family will be inspired to do as the “march for all” movement has done.