Catholic News Service
Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois
Catholic News Service
Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois
OXFORD, England — French bishops and a prominent lay group vowed to resist the government's proposed legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt.

"The firm position we've taken on this legal transformation has caused many waves -- the reactions, more diverse than we imagined, have revealed real unease among fellow citizens," said Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, president of the French bishops' conference.

The president of France's National Federation of Catholic Family Associations, Antoine Renard, said opponents would do "everything necessary" to block the legislation, including staging protests and pressuring their legislators and local mayors.

Speaking at the closing session of the French bishops' autumn plenary at the Marian shrine in Lourdes, France, Nov. 8, Cardinal Vingt-Trois said he knew the bishops would be accused of homophobia.

"Denouncing the fraud of same-sex marriage does not prevent us from understanding the need homosexuals feel for recognition, a need this supposed marriage will not satisfy," the Paris-based cardinal said.

He said personal attacks on opponents of the bill suggested some French citizens "had difficulty accepting a real debate," adding that he believed children had been "the big absent element" in the discussion.

"Numerous initiatives are already being taken by citizens, believers or not, to oppose this government bill -- many Catholics are engaging with people of other ways of thinking and other religions,"

Cardinal Vingt-Trois said.

"Let this country's Catholics know their bishops are encouraging them to speak, write, act and demonstrate. They have a right to testify to what, in the light of faith and the logic of reason and good sense, seems essential to them," he said.

The draft same-sex marriage bill was presented by Justice Minister Christiane Taubira at the Nov. 7 Cabinet meeting and is to be debated in January by France's National Assembly.

Welcoming the measure, President Francois Hollande said it represented "progress for all society" in France, where Catholics traditionally make up two-thirds of the population of 60 million.

Renard said the law would "almost certainly" necessitate the close of Catholic adoption agencies, like a similar 2007 law in Britain, and lead to the staging of gay weddings in churches, which are mostly government-owned in France.

"We asked the president to rethink this crazy idea, but he's gone ahead and presented it to parliament," Renard told Catholic News Service Nov. 8.

"A move like this in France will have important, influential consequences worldwide. I think we can convince people by January that it will change everything in our society," he said.

Legalizing same-sex marriage and embryo research were among campaign pledges by Hollande, who was elected in May.

Under the law, homosexual couples will be allowed to marry and adopt, but not obtain state-funded artificial insemination, although some legislators have pledged to add this in an amendment.

In her Nov. 7 statement, Taubira said France's current marriage code still reflected "religious traditions and practices," despite the country becoming more secular during the 18th-century French Revolution.

She added that the code did not make difference of sex a "fundamental condition" for marriage, but said France's current system of registered civil partnerships did not "meet the demand of same-sex couples wishing to marry or their demand for access to adoption."

During his homily at a Mass in Lourdes Nov. 4, Cardinal Vingt-Trois said the legislation would undermine a child's basic right "to know its parents and be raised by them," and bring "profound changes in society" under "ostentatious pressure from a few lobbies."

The cardinal criticized accompanying government plans to remove the words "father" and "mother" from future wedding ceremonies and marriage documents.

"A vision of humans that fails to recognize sexual difference would be a sham that destroys one of the foundations of our society and installs discrimination against children," Cardinal Vingt-Trois said.

"It would not be marriage for all, but marriage of some imposed on all -- a transformation of marriage which affects everyone," he said.

Same-sex adoption is allowed in several European countries, including Germany, Britain and Sweden, while a 2005 law permitting gay marriage and adoption in Spain gained Constitutional Court approval Nov. 6 after a legal challenge.

However, in a Nov. 5 TV interview, the French bishops' conference spokesman, Msgr. Bernard Podvin, said surveys showed citizen support for the bill had dropped from 63 to 58 percent since 2011, suggesting public opinion was "more troubled than it admits."

The priest added that even fewer French citizens now approved of gay adoption, suggesting it was not worth making "a total legislative upheaval for a minority which is ever so deserving of respect but not as important as one would like to say."

At least 1,200 French city mayors have signed a petition reserving the right not to conduct same-sex weddings, while protests have been staged in more than 70 towns against the bill, which is bitterly opposed by center-right opposition parties.

Renard told CNS the bill signified "an abuse of power by present generations over those to come" and had diverted attention from "more urgent social and economic priorities, especially for the most vulnerable."

"France is clearly facing a strong church-state conflict, and we can expect many actions in weeks ahead," he said.

"The Socialists can ignore the Catholic Church if they choose, but can they afford to ignore the Protestant, Muslim and Jewish organizations who've also declared against this project, and with whom we'll be seeking to cooperate in waking people up to the dangers?" he asked.