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For weeks, two rather large political events have been scheduled for this weekend: a demonstration regarding gay marriage & adoption, and the conservative party nomination of a new party president (UMP). I stepped out yesterday afternoon to witness a little of the political fervor.

As I rounded the corner of my little street yesterday afternoon, I peeked through the window of the small Italian restaurant that I pass everyday on my way out and who do you think was sitting there with his sons eating lunch? None other than former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. It’s not too surprising to see the former President in my neighborhood, given that he lives with his wife Carla in a private community across the street from the restaurant, the same gated community where Celine Dion and Terry Gunzburg (cosmetics by Terry founder) live. So seeing the former President wasn’t a shock so much as seeing him on the very day when his political successor is to be announced.

In France, bear in mind, celebrity isn’t handled quite as it is in the Anglo-Saxon world. The restaurant was open for normal business. Locals walked past on their way to their own business taking a quick glimpse if they happen to recognize the famous face. But no photographs were taken, no autographs requested, no interruptions, no paparazzi. The personal life of public figures isn’t so much news in France as it is elsewhere. (This, by the way, is something I really appreciate about France.)

I hopped on the bus toward the 16ème arrondissement’s Town Hall to cast my first ballot in France. As a member of the UMP party and a French resident, I have the right to vote within party elections, but not as of yet in the national and local elections. One year to go until I have the right to apply for citizenship. So in the meantime, I do my civic duty to France the only way I can.

Interestingly, the center of French politics is more to the left or more social than the center of US politics. You cannot justly make a direct comparison between the UMP (conservative) party in France and, say, the Republicans in the US. See, the UMP would never consider, for instance, demolishing the public health care system or making abortion illegal. These are entrenched in the social fabric of the society and that’s that. While fiscally conservative in terms of taxation and industry, the party remains centrist on the social scene, which leads me to the second big event of the weekend.

As you may have heard, gay marriage & adoption rights are a hot topic in France right now. Let me give you a bit of the political background:

Like Italy and Spain, France has historically fostered a Catholic society although based on a separation of Church and State, a prinicple called laïcité. Many French people of the elder generations are quite concerned about irreparably changing the Biblical definition of marriage – and its sanctity – as between a man and a woman. Some are homophobic. Some aren’t.

The large majority of the younger conservatives in France have no problem with homosexuality. What these people are worried about is the ramifications on the family if gay “marriage” and adoption become legal. Many don’t understand why gay couples insist on the word marriage when in France they are afforded full partner rights through a civil union called the PACS. Gay couples are not, however, permitted to adopt children as a couple. Thus, the societal clash is a matter of semantics – how will the French people define “marriage” and thereby parenthood. Of course, the issue is vastly more complicated than that, especially when we introduce children into the equation, but essentially it boils down to a definition.

My personal view, for what it’s worth, has largely always been to live and let live so long as the actions of one do not harm the person or property of another. My best friend is a gay man. And I know he would make a Grade 1, fantastic father. But can a society rightly make a law based on individual cases? And when we are talking about the welfare of children, can we decide such a fundamental question based on anything but the child’s best interest, regardless of the political realities of their parents?

There’s been a great deal of talk about an Ideal World throughout this debate. In my Ideal World, parents would be required to become parents only when/if they were capable both emotionally and financially to give their child a fighting chance in the world. But that’s hardly going to be possible. We don’t live in anyone’s ideal world.

So we’re left with one side fighting, honestly and courageously, for an equality they feel they deserve, and the other side, honestly and courageously, fighting to protect a society and familial structure they believe in.

That’s why we saw 70,000 people in the streets of Paris this weekend, calmly walking with their signs: One mama, one papa, we don’t lie to children.

The press like to sensationalize the demonstration. But the truth is that the protestors of the forthcoming law to legalize gay marriage and adoption were a peaceful bunch. A few women ran around with their bare breasts on display in anti-protest and they got quite a bit of media coverage, as did the devout Catholics with their antigay buttons. But the mass majority were from neither extreme. And the question, at the moment, continues to brew at the center of French social policy.

As my weekend came to a close last night, we watched the news to find out which of the two party candidates won the party presidency. This is the first party-wide election for a party president within the UMP.  The two candidates are: the current party’s president Jean-François Copé, and former French Prime Minister (the French have a President and a PM) under President Sarkozy, François Fillon. The news has made a real drama out of an election day that was in fact quite straight forward: the race was very close in the end, perhaps a few hundred votes difference. Review committees are now handling the recounts. We’ll hopefully know the verdict soon. UPDATE: Copé won with 50.3% of the general vote.

Part of the confusion was that Copé jumped the gun in announcing his success last night before the official recount had begun. Another part of the problem was that polls throughout the campaign asked conservative voters (not limited to UMP members) who they’d like to see as a president of the UMP. Fillon was the overwhelming winner. But the polls did not ask the militants – what the French call the party volunteers, supporters, members – who have worked with Copé as their boss and leader for the last five years while Fillon was running the government as PM. So while voters in a national Presidential election would largely favor Fillon, the party people who have the right to vote in the party election remained loyal to Copé. Hence the draw.

One thing we know for sure is that former French President Sarkozy (of the UMP party) did not cast the tie breaking ballot for he was enjoying lunch peacefully en famille all afternoon.

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