PARIS -- An estimated (by police) 150,000 people took to the streets of the French capital last Sunday to protest "le marriage pour tous." That is "marriage for everyone," the same-sex legislation signed into law last week by President Francois Hollande. Meanwhile, in the south of the country, the Palme d'Or, the highest honor of the Cannes Film Festival, was awarded to a film called "Blue Is the Warmest Color," a long and very explicit film about a teenager's wakening lesbianism.
Both happenings could be considered surprising or just another sign that France is not so gay these days. That's a double entendre, of course. "Gay Paree!" is not all that comfortable about gay marriage. I was at the demonstration "La Manif pour tous," meaning "Demonstration for Everyone." The Paris crowd was organized, more or less, by the Catholic Church and conservative political groups. French Catholics, who rarely actually go to Mass anymore, seemed mostly concerned that gay marriage would lead to more adoptions of children by same-sex couples.
In fact, though a few hundred "casseurs" -- "breakers" -- broke windows and banged on cars at the end of the Paris manifestation, the great danger on the streets was being hit by "poussettes" -- baby strollers. The protesting crowd was a Sunday family affair.
Also, some of the demonstrators may have been there to shout about President Hollande, the most unpopular French leader in memory. This all happened within the month the French economy officially slipped back into recession -- not a good time for a leader raising income taxes and establishing wealth taxes. That tax, if you noticed, was the reason that Gerard Depardieu, the country's most popular film star, moved to Chechnya. (There is no doubt that some less famous Frenchmen and women, and foreigners too, are leaving the country because of the Hollande taxes.)
Europe, oddly, seems to be having more trouble accepting same-sex marriages -- even in countries where heterosexual couples with children often don't bother to go through any formal church or civil weddings. Go figure.
In Italy, same-sex marriage is illegal and is going to stay that way for a long time. Still, Giuseppe and Massimiliano, famously in the press, went through a totally extra-legal ceremony last week in Rome with family members cheering them on. In England, a tangling Parliament is pushing through amendments to legalize, or not legalize, same-sex marriage.
While watching all this happening, I happened to be quietly reading "The Trust," Alex Jones and Susan Tifft's 1999 book on the growth of The New York Times. In one of many memorable scenes, Adolph Ochs, the Tennessee merchant who made the paper the greatest in the United States, if not the world, presided at an editorial board meeting in the 1920s and vetoed a proposal to write about same-sex couplings. Leaving the meeting with his son-in-law and successor, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, the old man asked, "What is a lesbian?"
Well, it's all in the Cannes prize-winning film, selected by a jury headed by, of all people, Steven Spielberg, which for the first time gave the award not only to the director, Abdellatif Kechiche, but to the female co-stars as well. Critics from the United States doubted many Americans would sit through the movie. But who knows?
Two days later, the first same-sex wedding between Vincent and Bruno was, with great publicity and 600 guests, held in the southern city of Montpellier, called the San Francisco of France. There will be more. As of now, 14 countries, 12 American states and the District of Columbia have made same-sex unions legal. It's too late for demonstrations. This is another new normal.