|Christiane Taubira, French Minister of Justice|
The opening speech, in support of the bill, was made by Justice minister Christiane Taubira, and what a speech it was. Taubira's reputation as a turbulent free-thinker within the government may have had some Socialists fearing a tirade of non-party-line personal views before she stood up to begin her speech, but their fears were instantly allayed by what turned out to be an eloquent discourse of very high quality which she delivered without notes. It lasted 35 minutes and she fully deserved the standing ovation which followed her closing remarks. It was more than a hard act to follow and sure enough, the opposition's subsequent speeches sounded lame and hackneyed in comparison.
Nouvelobs political commentator Thierry de Cabarrys summed up her performance rather well by writing that she "...left the opposition, which was quick to heckle her at the start, with no way of challenging her arguments, which, one after the other, referred to the bill in historical and legal, but also republican, human and poetic terms."
The run up to this debate had led us to believe that it would be the four-week political equivalent of the Battle of Waterloo and a Custer's Last Stand for the opposition, who promised to throw everything into the fight. French parliamentary rules allow for amendments to a bill to be proposed by its opponents and debated, and the opposition had made it clear that they would adopt a filibustering tactic consisting of the submission of 5000 mostly spurious so-called amendments in an effort to try to drag the debate out at worst, or, better still, force the government to abandon their plans.
But two sets of circumstances seem to have taken the wind out of their sails. Firstly, there was a massive, almost surprising, show of solidarity by the Socialists, who were almost all present. This is a rare sight in Socialist circles, the party being notorious for its internal divisions and squabbling, so any hopes the opposition may have had of putting them off their stride were dashed from the start.
The second factor is that it became evident yesterday that the last few months of bitter in-fighting between various opposition factions, due mainly to the suicidal party leadership spat between Jean-François Copé and François Fillon, has left rank-and-file députés disoriented by the lack of a clear party line on Gay marriage. This explains the conspicuous absence of a good number of opposition députés in parliament yesterday, and the bedraggled ranks of those who did turn up must have been disappointed by their leaders' speeches, which were uncoordinated, unoriginal and lacking in substance.
It was almost as if they knew in advance that their cause was lost, and this sentiment was transposed into petulant ill-will by leading UMP figure Christian Jacob, who explained away the poor attendance of the opposition with the hissy-fit declaration that they saw no reason why they should listen to Taubira's speech, which was "arrogant" and "talentless".
The Socialists have already announced their intention to address all the filibustering amendments - although similar ones will be regrouped for debate, as allowed by the rules - and refuse the temptation to push the bill through by shortening the debate via the use of emergency parliamentary measures. This is a wise move for it will ensure that the opposition will not be able to claim that they are being treated unfairly, and this may well lead to even more frustration within their ranks.
Chritiane Taubira's speech has probably sounded the death-knell for opponents of gay marriage, whose arguments have consisted of stale and outdated ideas of what modern society and marriage should be. And that's the up side, as there has also been a torrent of abusive and flagrantly homophobic bile with more than a hint of Catholic Integrism to it.
The debate will inevitably see some high drama moments and spectacular gestures such as, maybe, a parliamentary walk out by the opposition in protest, but when all the huffing and puffing is over it would appear that the government has already won the day and all it has to do to get the law put through to the Senate for ratification is hold its nerve in the face of what is sure to be an onslaught of provocation by the opposition.
The fact is that the gay marriage law was an election promise which was and still is supported by a majority of French citizens. This alone ensures that the government has right on its side. Add to that a discredited anti campaign and a leaderless, directionless and dispirited opposition party, and it's hard not to believe that it's all over bar the shouting and that the gay marriage bill shall be duly voted into law.