During the marriage equality debate, France’s Religious Right has increasingly embraced violence, and this looks set to leave lasting scars on the country even now that the debate is over and the marriage equality bill has passed its last major hurdle.
Key in the narrative of this violence has been the story of a Dutch-born man who, a few weeks ago, was walking with his partner in Paris and was badly beaten in an anti-gay attack. The victim, Wilfred de Bruijn, posted a photograph of his injuries on his Facebook page. He called it “the face of Homophobia.” The image went viral across the Internet, defining a marriage equality battle that has seen shocking levels of violence.
With the anti-gay marriage movement being infiltrated by far-right extremists, more acts of violence have been documented. A group of skinheads attacked a gay bar in Lille a few weeks ago and injured several people, while the Guardian also reports that a gay bar in Bordeaux was attacked by masked, armed men that same night.
In addition, politicians in favor of the bill have received death threats, and the president of the National Assembly received a letter threatening “war” and attacks on lawmakers. The letter contained gunpowder.
A gay man was also beaten unconscious and his partner attacked in Nice last weekend. A key gay rights group in Paris had their property defaced and, as the National Assembly prepared to give marriage equality its final vote on Tuesday, April 23, “Homosexuals Must Be Killed” reportedly became a trend phrase on Twitter.
While some in the anti-marriage equality movement have betrayed a tacky political opportunism by referring to the anti-gay marriage protests as “the French spring,” not all protesters were violent and it would be wrong to suggest they were.
It is also undeniable that the state law enforcement’s push back against the sometimes menacing but not always violent crowds protesting marriage equality has at times appeared disproportionate — though, once again, infiltration by violent nationalists who readily goad police has served to further complicate matters, as has the fact that at least one group of protesters appeared to use children as human shields during a demonstration.
However, it would not be unfair to say that certain key anti-marriage equality protesters have courted such violence with their elevated rhetoric.
Lead activist and comedian Frigide Barjot (real name Virginie Tellene), reacting to the news that President Hollande’s socialist party would not cave to pressure and would bring the National Assembly’s final vote on the legislation, recently said the following (emphasis mine):
“This is a disgrace. The French people don’t want this law, and what do they do? They speed up its passage. Hollande wants blood, and he will get it,” Barjot was quoted as saying by France’s TF1, adding “We live in a dictatorship. The President of the Republic has guillotined us.”
Barjot has since decried homophobic violence and said her anti-equality movement in no way supports such acts.
This, however, is not an isolated incident as several other high-profiled anti-marriage equality activists have made similar declarations.
Centre-right UMP deputy Christian Jacob has also reportedly said, “the President of the Republic is risking a violent confrontation with the French people,” even before many of the violent clashes had even begun.
Catholic bishop Andre Vingt-Trois, in a lengthy statement against same-sex marriage and wider gay rights, said on April 16 that the legalization of marriage equality would lead to bloodshed, warning that the “frustration of personal expression” of anti-gay marriage protesters would create a society “prepared for violence.”
The rest of the bishop’s statement goes to great lengths to dissuade from violent acts, but the threat is implicit: if France continues on this course, violence will ensue.
It should be noted that not every demonstration has ended in violence. On Sunday, Paris saw 45,000 anti-marriage equality protesters march, while 3,500 supporters of the legislation held their own rally. The massive drop from previous demonstrations has not been accounted for, but it is not too large a stretch to say that the increasingly hostile climate may have played its part.
It cannot be ignored, either, that anti-marriage equality protesters were the ones to first embrace and, indeed, promote a narrative that invoked or threatened violence and, it seems whether they meant it literally or not, these predictions have proved an almost self-fulfilling prophecy.
Image credit: Thinkstock.