The course of 2013 in France, Ireland, and Britain provides important lessons for those resisting the left’s attempt to remove Christian influence from public life in America.
On April 23, the Socialist government of François Hollande succeeded in making France the 14th country to legalize gay marriage, something he had promised to do during his 2012 campaign against the hapless Nicolas Sarkozy. But Hollande’s push for gay marriage did something Sarkozy could never do: It unified and galvanized conservatives and traditionalists across France. Paris saw two enormous demonstrations against gay marriage before Hollande’s legislation passed, with organizers claiming that 1.3 million marched against gay marriage in January and 1.4 million in March. Opponents of the legislation stressed the benefits to children of being raised by a father and a mother (the new law allows homosexuals to adopt) and argued that the legislation would require the terms father and mother to be removed from the Civil Code. (Even before the legislation passed, the French national railroad had replaced the offending terms on its forms with “parent 1” and “parent 2.”) These arguments won over many, even some French homosexuals. An article in the February 20 National Catholic Register quoted Jean-Marc, a mayor and a homosexual, as saying that “The rights of children trump the rights to children.” The French public came to agree. In 2012, polls showed that 48 percent of Frenchmen opposed letting homosexuals adopt children. By 2013, 56 percent were opposed, with only 41 percent favoring adoption by homosexuals. Nor does the law’s passage mean that the fight is over. Hollande’s popularity is plummeting, there was another massive demonstration against gay marriage in Paris on May 26, and an association representing nearly 15,000 of France’s mayors has stated that its members will not marry homosexuals.
A similar battle is brewing in Ireland over abortion. Prime Minister Enda Kenny was elected on the promise that he would not legislate over abortion. Ireland’s constitution provides that “the State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn,” though a 1992 Irish Supreme Court decision allows abortion in cases where the mother’s life is at risk. But Ireland’s liberal elite, which wants to drive Catholicism out of public life, has long chafed at the legal restrictions on abortion. They saw their chance in the death last October of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian immigrant. Halappanavar died from sepsis following a miscarriage, and she had requested an abortion while she was miscarrying. An inquest found that her death was the result of medical malpractice, with at least some of the blame being laid on the failure to diagnose and adequately treat infection. Kenny capitalized on Halappanavar’s death to put abortion legislation before the Irish parliament, to the applause of Ireland’s leftist media. Under Kenny’s proposed bill, the constitutional exception recognized in 1992 will be expanded to include cases of threatened suicide. Irish pro-lifers see this as a means to bring abortion-on-demand to Ireland, and they are alarmed that the bill provides that no hospital may refuse to perform an abortion, that a doctor refusing to perform an abortion must provide a referral to a doctor who will, and that life begins at implantation, not conception. Both the Irish Medical Organization and the Irish College of General Practitioners have registered their opposition to the bill, and 40,000 marched against it in Dublin in January.
Across the Irish Sea, David Cameron is pushing for gay marriage, an issue he never mentioned while campaigning for prime minister. There have been no dramatic protests in Britain (though one quarter of Britain’s Catholic priests co-signed a letter of protest to the Telegraph), but Cameron is already paying a political price. Lord Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury, noted in the Daily Mail that polls show that two thirds of British Christians feel that they are part of a persecuted minority and argued that “the Prime Minister has done more than any recent political leader to feed these anxieties.” The same poll showed that more than half of British Christians who supported the Conservatives in 2010 will not support them in 2015, and in the local elections in May only 25 percent of the vote went to the Conservatives, the lowest level since 1982, with 23 percent going to the right-wing U.K. Independence Party.
The fact that both France and Britain already recognized civil unions did not slow the march toward gay marriage. But French conservatives swayed public opinion and put the left on the defensive. By voting for UKIP, British conservatives sent a powerful message to David Cameron. These examples suggest that the culture war is intractable as long as some people wish to see Christianity provide the basis for public morality. They also suggest the futility of compromise and the importance of fighting back, here as well as abroad.