French Jews Square Off in Gay Marriage Debate

Play Key Roles on Both Sides as Issue Roils Society

Cultural Divide: With France split on legalizing gay marriage, Jews are playing key roles on both sides of the debate.
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Cultural Divide: With France split on legalizing gay marriage, Jews are playing key roles on both sides of the debate.

By JTA

Published February 05, 2013.
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Wide-eyed and smiley, Elay-Gabriel seems utterly unaffected by the French media’s sudden interest in him.

A dozen French journalists have visited the 18-month-old in recent months because he is trapped in a sort of legal limbo: He cannot obtain citizenship because the state does not recognize children born to surrogates abroad as French, even if one of their biological parents is a French national.

Complicating matters is the fact that Elay-Gabriel is being raised by two gay Parisians – Israeli-born Eran and his partner, Jean-Louis. (The family asked that their last name not be published.) Gay couples cannot adopt in France, meaning that surrogacy – and the citizenship uncertainties which follow – are inevitable for gays wishing to raise children.

“We learned singles practically can’t adopt, and gays are all singles in France because we can’t marry,” Eran said.

Much of that could change if President Francois Hollande succeeds in his effort to push legislation through parliament that would allow same-sex marriage in France, a move that has set off a fiery public debate in which Jews have played an outsized role.

In October, Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim, breaking with the French rabbinate’s traditional neutrality on issues of civil legislation, penned an essay on the negative effects of gay marriage. Bernheim argued that legalization efforts are made for “the exclusive profit of a tiny minority” and are part of a wider move to “undermine the heterosexual fundamentals of our society.”

France’s association of Jewish homosexuals, Beit Haverim, condemned Bernheim’s language as “bellicose.” But the document has been quoted at length in influential French dailies and was cited approvingly by Pope Benedict, who called it “profoundly moving” during his Christmas address to Vatican officials.

Bernheim’s essay was a notable contrast to the inflammatory reaction of France’s Catholic clergy. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, said in an interview that the law would bring about “social collapse,” adding, “Next they’ll want to have foursomes. Then they’ll legalize incest.”

“When the Catholics spoke against this law, nobody listened because of the vehemence and because they’re Pavlovian opponents of change,” Yeshaya Dalsace, a well-known Conservative rabbi from Paris, told JTA. “People listened to Bernheim because the Jews are known as progressive forces of change in law, medicine, labor – you name it.”


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