Nicolas Sarkozy declared he is in favour of repealing the law legalising same-sex marriage in France, passed in the spring of 2013. This public stance is a first for Sarkozy, and a dramatic change from his previous, more liberal, position on the topic. Several of his allies and fellow senior party members have criticised the former president’s new posture.
“The law must be rewritten from top to bottom,” Sarkozy first said in front of an audience of 3,000 in Paris. He was then heckled by numerous people chanting “Repeal Repeal” while other booed him, the AFP news agency reported.
The ex-President then changed tone: “If you’d like it better that one says we must abrogate the law to create another one… In French, it means the same thing, it has the same results. But, well, if that pleases you, honestly, it’s not very costly.”
Saturday’s political meeting was organised by “Sens Commun” (common sense), a fringe political group claiming up to 10,000 members and has links to the UMP party. It is reported to be an offshoot of “La Manif Pour Tous,” a movement born out of the opposition to the bill legalising same-sex marriage in France, nicknamed “Taubira law” after the French Minister of Justice. In the run-up to the passing of the law, “La Manif Pour Tous” regularly drew tens of thousands of people on the streets to protest against the bill.
"One marriage for homosexuals, one for straight couples"
“I want a marriage for homosexual couples and a [different] marriage for straight couples, which takes into account the differences, because it is not the same thing,” Sarkozy also told the audience. Both will be celebrated in city halls, the difference, according to him, lays on the consequences of the marriages on filiation. French law currently grants the same rights to gay and straight couples.
Sarkozy, who harbours renewed presidential hopes, has tossed his hat in the ring to regain control of UMP, France’s main conservative party. The Sens Commun movement had invited all three candidates to the UMP presidency to quiz them on social issues.
One of the three, Bruno Le Maire, who refused to abrogate the law, was booed. Another, the UMP MP Hervé Mariton, an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage and a darling of the “Manif Pour Tous”, received a standing ovation.
Sarkozy also received thunderous applause when he told the socially conservative crowd he was firmly against medically-assisted procreation and surrogacy pregnancies. But, while medically-assisted procreations are legal for clinically infertile straight couples in France, the Taubira law does not legalise either for same-sex couples.
The 59-year-old, who only recently returned to politics after his 2012 loss in the presidential elections was, until Saturday, very vague on the topic, reportedly not to be divisive in the conservative party.
Conservatives divided on same-sex marriage
In addition to the jibs and the uproar coming from the left side of the political spectrum, the division feared by Sarkozy did take place.
Since his declarations, several former UMP ministers and former allies publicly criticised his newfound viewpoint.
Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a former minister under Sarkozy, his spokesperson during the 2012 presidential campaign, “strongly disagrees with his orientation”. For Kosciusko-Morizet, who currently backs Sarkozy for UMP leader, the abrogation of the law is “neither desirable, nor possible”.
Alain Juppé, Prime minister under Jacques Chirac and three-time minister under Sarkozy, said repealing the Taubira law “was not a good idea” and that same-sex marriage was a commonly accepted new step.
The French MEP Nadine Morano, often lampooned in satirical shows for being a Sarkozy cheerleader, tweeted: “The French had expected other priorities than the rewriting of the Taubira Law.”
Another of Sarkozy’s close allies, Nice mayor Christian Estrosi, told AFP he stayed by his previous statement that same-sex marriage was a “step forward” and that he was among those who say we will not go back on it.”
Sarkozy's changing stance
In 2007, a few days after his election, Sarkozy told the French gay community that "all the difference between love and desire is that love needs social recognition". He then commited to improve the PACS, France’s civil partnership, to include social, fiscal and successional equality between straight and same-sex couples. The reform never took place, according to the AFP news agency.
In 2011, reports surfaced that then-President Sarkozy was “privately” in favour of same-sex marriage. Running for reelection in 2012, Sarkozy was ready to include it in his programme. “He worked on it for weeks. He became a real specialist,” a conservative MP told French daily newspaper Libération. Same-sex marriage was eventually not on the president’s platform.
With his previous liberal positions, doubts persists over Sarkozy’s conversion, suspected to be fuelled by electoral interest. “Let’s not be credulous, it is for the moment nothing but a declaration of intent,” officials from La Manif Pour Tous said after the former president’s declaration.
It does not help his case that Sarkozy was recently reported as saying in private: “I don’t give a damn about same-sex marriage. It’s not a topic.”
At the very least, same-sex marriage seems less and less of an issue for the very own voters Sarkozy is courting, bar a vocal socially conservative minority.
According to a Ifop poll published on Saturday on the centre-right French news website Atlantico, 68% of the French are in favor of same-sex marriage and 53% are in favour of adoption for same-sex couples. Among UMP voters, the proportions are 58% and 38%, a rise of respectively 25 and 16 percentage points since January 2013.