What do Gay Marriage Laws in France and the U.K. mean for the U.S?

Gay marriage laws in France Credit: http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/[/caption]

On Tuesday, after ten days of debate in Parliament, the French Assemblee Nationale passed a law making same-sex marriage legal. The bill passed 329-229 vote. A week after the United Kingdom passed similar legislation, France became the thirteenth country in the world — tenth in Europe — to legalize same-sex marriage. Tweet it:

As these countries join the growing list of western nations legalizing same-sex marriage, some question if they are creating a new standard on the issue that could affect the United States in the near future. A glance at the manner these two countries dealt with this issue, which could not have been more different, makes it difficult to draw any certain conclusions. Nevertheless, the international climate for marriage equality is sure to enter the United States’ public discourse sooner rather than later. Tweet at @TheTaskForce:

In the UK, the law was championed by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and passed 400 -175, with the support of 41 percent of the conservative members of parliament. The debate of opening up the institution of marriage to include same-sex couples was not without opposition from the Church of England and other religious organizations on top of factions within the Conservative Party. However, 62 percent of Britishnationals favored the law, resulting in a fairly civil national debate. Tweet stat:

Contrarily, in France, marriage for all was a promise made by socialist President Francois Hollande during the 2012 campaign. Despite a similar percentage of support — about 60 percent of the population — the debate surrounding opening marriage to same-sex couples has been long and violent; not only among the members of France’s Parliament, but similar scenes played out amongst the public as well.

Not one day passed without new verbal attacks made by a politician or religious leader comparing same-sex marriage to polygamy, incest, or pedophilia.

Between 350,000 and 800,000 people went in the streets of Paris to protest the law in January. Such opposition to legalize gay marriage in the very liberal, very secular France has surprised many, especially abroad. Time Magazine went as far to ask: “Is gay marriage too progressive for the French?” Tweet at @TIME:

Despite having the same result, the approach to same-sex marriage in France and the UK seems to be sending contradictory and confusing messages to the international community. On one side, it sends the message that conservatives can be a strong force behind the legalization of same-sex marriage. On the other side, it seems that even within a liberal nation, this issue is far from settled.

Neither of these conclusions are helpful in determining how the changes across the Atlantic could affect the issue in the United States. However, one main finding can be drawn. In both countries, the party in power successfully initiated the reform because it did so at a moment when the popular support for same-sex marriage was quite strong, in both cases above 60 percent.

In recent years, the support among Americans for same-sex marriage has increased, but still hovers around 50 percent. Once a significant majority of Americans are in favor of gay marriage, activists may decide the iron is hot enough to mount pressure on lawmakers in the U.S. to act. Tweet stat: