The marriage debate in France has been watched closely around the world. The huge rallies in favour of traditional marraige have been particularly noteworthy. Following the redefinition of marriage in France last week, MercatorNet’s Blaise Joseph caught up with young French marriage activist Maxime Lagorce, from La Manif Pour Tous Sydney, who recently spoke at the World Congress of Families.

So first up: France has just redefined marriage. What is the mood in the country? How do people feel about it?

Obviously there are some people who are happy, but many others are not. But I think we will see this coming Sunday with the number of people at the rally that people defending marriage haven’t given up. We are all expecting more people at this rally than at the two previous demonstrations. A lot of people are disappointed by this decision. It was rushed. After the constitutional court validated the bill on Friday, the President then signed it Saturday morning at 6am. So the government obviously wanted to rush it so we don’t talk about it anymore. That has been the case throughout this debate in France. A lot of people feel that democracy hasn’t been respected in this instance and that our politicians haven’t listened to us.

Do you think it’s possible France will be the first country in the world to repeal same-sex marriage laws?

Honestly, I don’t trust our politicians enough to be confident that they will have the courage to do that. The problem is that the next significant election (of the President and the parliament) will be in four years time, and the opposition at the moment is having debates about whether the bill should be abolished or else just amended, but due to the media pressure, the opposition seems to be leaning towards just amending the new laws, and do not have the courage to really defend their values. So I’m not sure that they will have the courage to do that. However, the movement to keep protecting the family and marriage is still going strong. And one of the first actions will be support pro-marriage candidates at the upcoming city council elections, including the Paris council election. We are urging the opposition to select candidates who will defend marriage more.

 Now tell us about La Manif Pour Tous. How did it start?

The new President Hollande was elected in May a year ago. We knew the same-sex marriage issue was going to come up in his first term, although it wasn’t discussed much during the campaign, because economic matters were very prominent. But it was on the agenda for the first term. A group of organisations defending marriage met together at that time to set up a strategy to oppose the proposals, which at the time everyone thought would pass seamlessly with little opposition. They were joined by numerous religious organisations, and even homosexual associations who felt that their voices were being stolen by the gay marriage lobby. So they managed to start last November with local gatherings in several cities, and the turnout was encouraging and far better than expected. They then decided to hold a much larger rally in Paris in January, and that was a great success.

And how did you get involved in La Manif Pour Tous?

For me personally, I wasn’t involved with the pro-marriage organisations before the rally in January, I was just working in Australia (I arrived here two years ago), but a group of French here were frustrated looking at what was happening in France. And we heard in January that there were gatherings in Tokyo, London, Rome, and Quebec protesting the government’s bill at the same time as the rally in Paris, so we so we decided to put together a group in Sydney. And since then, overseas groups of La Manif Pour Tous have started up in many different countries. So we are a very de-centralised, grassroots organisation. It has also given us the opportunity to link with lots of international pro-family organisations, such as at the World Congress of Families.

Lots of people right around the world were very surprised that such huge number of people in France, over 1 million, took to the streets to protest against redefining marriage. How did you manage to unite such a diverse range of people in defending traditional marriage?

Yeah. It is a bit of a mystery, obviously. A bit of a miracle! We were surprised as well! The leaders of the movement have been careful about trying to control the messages going out from the movement. They have been quite strict, I would say. We’ve focussed on the rights of children. No religious arguments. Trying to attract people from every religion or none. No political arguments. We’re not against the president or the government, just against the bill, so we’ve been joined by people who even voted for Hollande.  Also, we’ve not made any negative arguments against homosexuality, so we’ve avoided being treated as “homophobic”. Non-violent, non-aggressive, very positive, happy movement. With the economic crisis, the country is a bit depressed, so we wanted a more positive movement, with funny and catchy slogans, which made the people want to come and join us, having a good time! So not your usual angry protest. So we’ve succeeded in getting people from a lot of different backgrounds.

The impression in many Western countries is that young people are mostly in favour of redefining marriage. But that doesn’t seem to be the case in France, does it?

Yes definitely. Because they are the first ones hit by the economic crisis, and have suffered from some of the consequences of the relativism from the 1960s with their parents divorcing, and the consequences of past attacks against family values in general. So there are a lot of young people motivated by this in France. And it was quite unexpected, because at the start most people thought it would be mainly older people opposing the same-sex marriage laws. Having said that, there are also many young people in favour of same-sex marriage, some of whom are passionate activists, but for many they are for it because of media pressure and talk about “equality” and haven’t really thought about it. But there are a large number of youth in La Manif Pour Tous who are passionate and very well informed about marriage. So that is cause to be optimistic about the future of the marriage movement in France.

Blaise Joseph is a third-year commerce student at the University of New South Wales with a strong interest in social policy. Blaise is originally from Canberra, the centre of politics and the public...