The Heroic and the Ordinary

A French History of Marriage Equality.

Also available in French.

On October 2012 (it will be 3 years this week), Julia and Auriane, students, both straight and with no history of political engagement in favor of LGBT rights, passed a group of protesters, who had gathered in Marseilles in opposition to Marriage Equality. Suddenly, Julia and Auriane decided to walk toward the group of protesters and kiss. Their decision became in France the symbol of the support to Equal Rights, and AFP Gérard Julien’s photograph is now known as “Le Baiser de Marseille”.

Some months ago, I wrote an article reminiscing how thousands of us, L, G, B, T or S(traight), had been heroic. How we had, for months in a row, marched the streets, engaged in debates, born the unbearable, supported those who’d suffered, those who’d been thrown out, those who’d been beaten up.

Wilfred was molested with his partner Olivier, during the night between the 6th and the 7th of April 2013. He later became one of the symbols of the escalation of violence that occurred in France in the context of the debates on marriage equality.

It’s been more than two years now that the Taubira Law, a.k.a the “Mariage Pour Tous” law, was voted in France. Today, the heroic people came back, in the minds of many, to being ordinary people. Marriage Equality, the object of their fight and of the hatred of their foes, became something

“quite ordinary”.

Yes, I hear that phrase a lot. I hear it in the mouth of that crowd, that majority of people, that silent majority, that majority who did not stir. That majority who risked nothing, since it was not risking anything. I can see them, these ordinary people who have not been heroic, give away smiles to the same-sex couples they pass in the street, although not so long ago they declared to whomever might want to hear them their indifference and their preoccupation for more urgent and important matters, such as unemployment, poverty, or the unrest in the Middle East. Matters, in a nutshell, that concerned that ubiquitous majority, overwhelming, obvious, but who consistently fails to find a name and a face for itself. Oh, the noble intentions! How many there were of them back then, all for “the greater good”!

Today, I hear those very same people assure me, suddenly of a tranquil wisdom, a certainty bordering on faith, that marriage equality is simply good sense, that it will never be questioned again, because, let’s put it straight, having the right to marry someone you love is quite ordinary.

From top to bottom: A group of neo-nazis and fundamentalist catholics in front of the St-Jean Cathedral during a kiss-in in support of LGBT Civil Rights (Lyon, May 19th 2010). People praying in the street (a legal offense in France) during a protest led by Civitas (a fundamentalistic catholic organization) against Marriage Equality (Paris, April 4th 2013). Women dressed as French revolutionaries during a “Manif pour Tous” protest against Surrogacy (Paris, October 5th 2014).

Do they know, these ordinary people, how much it cost all of us? Do they know how France, since that fight for equality, changed? For the best, but also for the worst? Do they know the demons that this fight has awakened?

Do they remember the words that they let be spoken? The casual murderous sentences that they pretended not to hear, that they let be spoken at dinner between the appetizers and the dessert, because family time is sacred and, in ordinary families, one must not put on a fight over dinner? Do they know, these heroes of the aftermath, these soldiers of the truce, that the heroic people, those who, today, smile back at them in the street, will never, truly, deeply, forget? Do they know that often forgiveness is not forgetfulness? That remembrance, vivid, covered in blood, is the necessary condition for forgiveness?

Oh, how boring, unpleasant and irritating is this petty obsession of petty lobbys, this diktat named “Equal Rights”! Its most insufferable flaw is the way it only concerns, systematically, minorities (or what ordinary people, who perceive themselves as the majority, label so). But there is one thing that shall not be denied: whether it is won for women, blacks or homosexuals, the fight for Equal Rights is never ordinary. It is heroic. It digs trenches on a front line. The people it draws into combat are conscripts. Being heroic, then, is no less than a duty.

There are of course the deserters: those conscripts who wish they’d been ordinary, but who never will be. There are also the traitors: those who fought on the ennemy’s side to persuade themselves they could be both heroic and ordinary.

Alas! Tragically for them, those will never be the heroes of anyone.

Heroic people supported by ordinary people who made the decision to be heroic.

Two years after the Taubira Law, I remember the heroic conscripts who every day went to the front line. But I also, and above all, remember those ordinary people who asked to be drafted. Those who did not have the nerve and cowardice to take unemployment, poverty and the unrest in the Middle East as hostages. Those who marched, debated, defended, denounced, supported. Those who rammed their fist down onto the table between the appetizers and the dessert. Those who had nothing to win, but who knew that others would have a lot to lose.

Those who understood that one does not build their own happiness on indifference and inequality.

Those who know that everything they have today, everything that appears to them as “quite ordinary” relies on the fights of other people who decided, some day, to be heroic.

Two years after the Taubira Law, I wish that among the ordinary people who did not stir, among those who remained silent, among those who had the murderous nerve to remain phlegmatic, tranquil, “above all this”, among those circumstantial Gandhis and Mother Teresas, awakens the consciousness of the immeasurable weight of what they did not do.

That woman there who is voting.
That black person there who is taking the bus with everyone.
That girl there who is swallowing her birth-control pill.
That divorcee there who is asking his girlfriend to marry him.

From left to right: March in favor of women’s suffrage (Paris, 1945). March in favor of contraception and the right to abort (Issy-les-Moulineaux, 1971). Gay Pride in favor of the decriminalization of homosexuality (Paris, 1982).

I wish that all those people think of the same-sex couple they smiled at in the street, and that they ask themselves: “Why did I not fight for them?”

Whoever we are, the rights that we have
always relie on the fights of others.

Two years after the Taubira Law, here I am, sitting in this café, finishing this post and thinking about my wife and about all those who fought.

Our children will be the sons and daughters of heroes.
What about yours?



This article is the opening post of the Equal Rights Week on Carrie Speaking.


Travel Writer, Blogger.
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