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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Has Nicolas Sarkozy shot himself in foot with calls to repeal France's same-sex marriage law?

Well it sure looks that way - at least partially.

The former French president finally came off the fence, so-to-speak, when he announced at the weekend that the same-sex marriage law in France should be repealed.

Nicolas Sarkozy at Sens Commun meeting (screenshot i>Télé report)

His comments came during a meeting held by Sens Commun (Common sense), a fringe movement founded within the opposition centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP) and one which had, and continues to have, close ties to the "Manif pour tous".

If that sounds familiar, it'll be because "Manif pour tous" was the organisation which most vociferously opposed same-sex marriage legislation (and joint adoption) and organised several large scale demonstrations in the run-up to the April 2013 parliamentary debates and votes.

In fact "Manif pour tous" is still going strong, campaigning under its current president, Ludovine de La Rochère, for family values and against assisted reproductive technology, surrogate mothers, same-sex couples having the right to marry and/or adopt children.

Yes, it's an organisation with its sights set on the past and not on the here-and-now and certainly not the future (unless it resembles the past).

Anyway, Sens Commun pulled off something of a coup by having all three candidates for the UMP leadership (to be decided by UMP members' votes in a fortnight's time) turn up to a weekend meeting.

First up (and the three men didn't appear on stage together but rather one after the other) was Bruno Le Maire, jeered when he announced he would not seek to scrap the law that had been passed allowing same-sex marriage.

Next up Hervé Mariton, a firm opponent to same-sex marriage and roundly applauded for his stance.

Finally it was Sarkozy's turn in front of an audience far from being impartial and eager (too eager perhaps) to hear him tell them what they wanted to hear.

And Sarkozy was happy to oblige - at first in words that seemed somewhat coded.

"Let's be clear about this, the Taubira law (for same-sex marriage, named after the justice minister, Christiane Taubira, who steered the legislation through parliament) needs to be completely rewritten from the top to the bottom," he said, happy to oblige in a language he thought would mollify those present.

But then as the chant of "Repeal, repeal, repeal," from the audience became stronger, Sarkozy  hardened his tone.

"All right, if you would rather that the law be repealed and another French, that's saying the same thing. The result is the same. But hey, if it make you happy, then frankly it doesn't cost much."

Rapturous applause from those listening. Sarkozy had said exactly what they wanted him to.

He might not be against extending the civil partnership rights (PACS) that exist for same-sex couples, but he wants to rewrite the law on marriage.

Hey ho. That'll be an easy one to get past the Conseil Constitutionnel - withdrawing a right of equality that exists to replace it with...something less.

So how far has Sarkozy shot himself in the foot?

Well only moderately.

Firstly, Sarkozy has made a mockery of the claim that he represents the unifying saviour of the party because some high ranking members and supporters of his push to become UMP leader, immediately responded that they were not in favour of repealing the legislation allowing same-sex marriage.

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, Sarkozy's spokeperson during the 2012 presidential campaign said repeal was "neither desirable, nor possible".

The mayor of Nice and a minister during Sarkozy's "reign" as president, Christian Estrosi, said there should be no going back on the law and that it had been a "step forward".

And much the same sentiments from other former ministers, Frédéric Lefebvre, Valérie Pécresse and most notably Alain Juppé, a declared candidate for the UMP's primary to choose its candidate for the 2017 presidential election and the biggest threat to Sarkozy should he decide to throw his hat into that particular battle.

Even - and this will surely have come as a shock to many - one of Sarkozy's most fervent supporters, Nadine Morano, seemed unhappy with his statement, tweeting (as is her preferred method of communication) "The French had expected other priorities than the rewriting of the Taubira law."

Secondly Sarkozy was seriously misreading public opinion at large.

Same-sex marriage - yes or no - might have been a subject of debate over 18 months ago.

But the vote has passed and recent surveys show a majority of French (68 per cent) are in favour of same-sex marriage and 53 per cent believe couples of the same sex should be allowed to adopt - together.

That said, Sarkozy's stance is unlikely to have done him any harm with UMP members. He'll still more than likely romp home to win the leadership contest.

But it has displayed once again his predisposition for telling people (in this case an audience composed largely of those opposing same-sex marriage) what they wanted to hear without really having the (constitutional) tools to deliver.

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