In France, Gay-Marriage Opponents Take to the Streets While Cannes Gives Top Prize to Bold Lesbian Romance

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: In France, you've got a lesbian love story with explicit sex scenes winning the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday. Meantime in Paris, you've got this.

[yelling French]

Werman: That was also yesterday as tens of thousands in Paris protested the new "Marriage for All" law. That law sets a scene for France's first same-sex weddings in a couple of days. It's a striking contrast, this movie and these protests, and it seems to say something about the confusing nature of the debate over same-sex marriage and gay rights in France. Steven Erlanger is the New York Times' Bureau Chief in Paris. You were at those demonstrations yesterday, Steven. For you, what does this contrast say about attitudes in France right now; what's going on?

Steven Erlanger: Well, I often think of France as a Catholic country where nobody goes to church. And what you had in the heart of the demonstration was not so much an anti-gay protest, but a protest from the cultural and religious conservatives about what they consider the violation of the institution of marriage. They have no real problem with equal rights or gay couples, but they think they should have something other than marriage. But then the demonstration was taken over, in the past few months, by a more broad protest against the policies of President Francois Hollande, who's very unpopular. And then on the fringes, as you've heard, you have some people called "ultras", who are just looking for a fight, mostly from the far right.

Werman: And what's behind the whole notion of marriage being sacrosanct? Because many heterosexual couples don't marry in France, they just live together.

Erlanger: Well, this is exactly right; this is part of the great confusion. And not only that, but marriage in France is a secular ceremony. The only legal marriages take place and done by an official of the state since the revolution. And you can get remarried afterwards in religious terms but more and more couples are living together short of marriage or even in something they call a "PACS", which is a civil union, which was actually designed for gay couples but has been almost entirely used by heterosexual couples who kind of see it as a trial or something.

Werman: So these conservatives and far-right demonstrators saying "no" to same-sex marriage likely won't change the same-sex marriages from happening later this week, but, I mean, contrast that with what happened in Cannes at the film festival this weekend. That movie "Blue is the Warmest Color", a three-hour lesbian romance, top prize at Cannes? Have you heard any comments on this from the conservative demonstrators?

Erlanger: Well, oddly no. I mean, the film, which [unintelligible] people have seen yet, is a love story between a young woman, maybe 15, and a slightly older woman, and it's about philosophy and growing up, but it does have what is said to be a 10 minute love scene between the two girls. My guess is it will be edited down before it's distributed. But the main thing to remember, too, about France is that it's also a very liberal country and it's a more sexualized culture than in America; it's far less prudish. And somehow the world of art is considered sacrosanct; it's not the same as the world of the street.

Werman: Well, this weekend certainly underscored that, didn't it? New York Times, Steven Erlanger, in Paris. Thank you.

Erlanger: Thank you.