The only thing clear right now about the U.S. Supreme Court’s pending decision on the Defense of Marriage Act -- the law that bars the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriages -- is that Americans will read the verdict as the latest salvo in a long-running culture war. But it is worth remembering that this is a culture war that is increasingly being fought internationally -- and often in terms that do not line up with the debate in the United States. Americans have become accustomed to thinking of the argument against gay marriage as being motivated by religious conservatism. But that is not necessarily true elsewhere.
France offers an instructive example. Although 60 percent of the public supports gay marriage, the country has been beset by vitriolic protests since the National Assembly narrowly passed a marriage equality law last spring. From a distance, the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets may have seemed little different from the evangelical activists often seen at similar demonstrations in the United States. But Americans would be surprised to discover how different their motivations often are.
To be sure, religion is not irrelevant to the French protests. The most prominent protest leader, a comedian who adopted the nom de guerre Frigide Barjot, a snarky nod to the 1960s actress and sex symbol Brigitte Bardot, embraced a fervent Catholicism during a pilgrimage to Lourdes. (She now calls herself “Jesus’ press secretary.”) Catholic clergy have denounced the marriage legislation, and several religious associations have helped organize the protests.
But opponents of marriage equality in France’s mainstream parties have mostly kept their distance from religious groups. Relatively few of the street protesters interviewed by reporters talk of God, wave the Bible, or have verses from Leviticus tattooed on their arms. (Which should come as no surprise, given that France is a largely secular place, where barely half the population even still identifies itself as Catholic and regular religious attendance does not