It’s 1789 in Paris, ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’ is chanted from the rooftops, as François-Marie Arouet Voltaire, and Pierre Bayle lead their contempories against all odds in the hope of these Enlightenment ideals of freedom, equality and brotherhood, inspiring in the hearts of a nation one of the most well-known philosophical and political movements of all time. Olympe de Gouge stepped up and spoke out about gender equality the Revolution failed to achieve, and for years after – as Les Misérables taught us all – students fought for that hope the Revolution instilled with bravery and belief as strong as any ever seen. The Revolution quite literally, changed the face of a nation, and, in spite of its lack of effectiveness, is one which still instils pride in the nation of France and its people today.
In May 1968, students and teachers alike protested against De Gaulle’s government and the closing of the University of Nanterre in hope of a communist revolution once more, as half a million protesters marched through Paris waving ‘au-revoir !’ to De Gaulle. Having somewhat of a reputation to uphold, it is not surprising then, that Hollande’s latest proposition to legalise gay marriage and adoption has not been taken lightly then by a large portion of the French population. As a nation, France’s votes have always revealed a strong rivalry between left and right political ideals, most dramatically in 2002, as Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, reached the second round of French elections, with only Jacques Chirac – who in the end, won with a staggering 82% of the votes – stood in the way of his dream of an all-white, all French nation. Most recently then, French Catholics and political conservatives as well as some Muslims and evangelicals have fought back strongly against Socialist François Hollande’s proposition. Organisers claimed a record 800,000 – 300,000 more than those who drove De Gaulle out of the country – marched the streets of Paris in January, wielding ironically the slogan ‘paternity, maternity, equality’ to protest against the legalisation of gay marriage, adoption, and artificial insemination for lesbian couples; the latter of which has been put on hold due to huge public uproar against the bill.
Freedom, then, undoubtedly is still flying high in France, particularly freedom of speech, but whatever happened to the ‘equality’ and ‘brotherhood’ that many of France’s most influential figures fought so profoundly for? And where is the ‘equality’ these protesters are still claiming to be fighting for? The 800,000 who believe so strongly that it is not fair for gay couples to marry or adopt, are surely not so proud of their heritage as it may seem, otherwise this ‘equality’ they fight for, would be the same as that of Voltaire and Bayle – an equality for everyone, no matter what their sexual orientation. Granted that as impossible as that may be in these times, a step-forward towards something closer to this equality, closer to the brotherhood of man that they stood for, is surely a step closer to making France, and the world, a fairer place?
Whatever your perspective on gay marriage and adoption, the politics of De Gaulle or Le Pen, or even the philosophies and ideals of The Enlightenment, what cannot be denied is that it seems evident now more than ever, that those who fight against Hollande at this time, in many ways fight against much more than just one government, or one bill. They fight against those who for centuries, fought for France to become great in its ideals, and that they are as far away as ever from their reputation of ‘Liberté, Egalité, Eternité.’ At least Francois Hollande has, in this case, given hope to those who still try, and for Voltaire, and Bayle, the protesters of ’68 and the students of 1817 – ‘Vive La France!’
By Sophie Bramley