Against the moral order and the symbolic order

Pascale Berthault, Rouge (France)


Since the debates around the PACS [French partnership legislation], new limits to the rights that can be granted to gays and lesbians have been sketched out. The politicians have indicated the limits of what’s admissible and justified these limits with pseudo-scientific arguments.


This modern homo-lesbophobia presupposes that gays and lesbians have already been given a lot. The rights that we still need to obtain are considered both minimal and impossible for society to concede.


The "left’s" right-thinking discrimination


The contradiction in this line of argument is clearly apparent: if these additional rights are so unimportant, then how is it that public opinion is not prepared to grant them?


These allegations are made by political men and women running the country, who never explain what makes them suppose that society won’t stand for more rights for gays and lesbians. Their arguments are backed up by the collaboration (the word is used advisedly) of intellectuals, who pester us with supposedly incontestable scientific  truths.


Science is treated in this discussion as something independent of any ideology and of the historical context in which research is carried out. It supposedly leads to conclusions independant of the social issues that are at stake, even though the social issues are what gives rise to its studies in the first place. In short, scientific results are supposed to be unique and incontestable. In another age this would have been called religion. To take one example of this scienterrorisme among many others: a child "needs" two parents of different sexes. This is what justifies the legal rights granted to a mother to designate a father — any father — for her child, and by contrast the legal obstacles encountered by a lesbian couple seeking to win recognition of the real, emotional link their child has not only with the biological mother but also with her companion.


And yet there are few voices publicly challenging these "scientists". The first reason is that access to the media is reserved today to a social elite, while the people who are most directly concerned, gays and lesbians, have just as much right to be heard on these issues. Nevertheless, until now the press has denied any right of response from either our organizations or from us as individuals.


We should also bear in mind the silence of a certain number of "scientists" who consider that they have no authority to talk about these issues. While giving them due credit for their modesty, we reproach them just the same with countenancing through their silence the voices that are being heard in public. This makes it seem as if all "scientists" from the disciplines in question (sociology, anythropology, psychoanalysis and history, to mention only the most famous) endorse the publicly expressed position.


As for the politicians who have taken it on themselves to transmit the general population's (un)willingness to accept our demands, we know that these people are light-years removed from the reality of very many people living in our country. Their political project consinsts in the last analysis of nothing more than a crude aspiration to stay in power. The so-called unacceptability for society of gays and lesbians' demands is only the product of their fears and nightmares about losing votes, and very far from people's actual perceptions.


Saying that our demands are not crucial, that they are marginal compared to the rights we've already won, and that the rights we've already won are enough to guarantee our being sufficiently taken account of is false, on at least two levels. First, the issue of equal rights will be posed as long as there are categories of people who are discriminated against and don't have the same rights as the rest, which is the case with gays and lesbians in particular. A same-sex couple is not allowed to marry or adopt, and must wait three years before filing a joint tax return. A foreign domestic partner has to jump more hurdles than a married person in the same situation before being granted legal residence in France. Many employers do not give the same benefits to a same-sex partner as to a different-sex partner. And as we saw during the debates on PACS in the National Assembly, gays and lesbians can be publicly insulted with complete impunity.


Pride: a strategy inextricably linked to demands for rights


Second, our demands go further than just obtaining rights. The other dimension is our struggle against constant, daily, major and minor insults, against being stigmatized whenever we step outside the heterosexual box. It is difficult or even impossible to give the whole list of all these different, everyday irritations and forms of discrimination, simply because it would be so long and we would be forgetting so many things. These aspects of our demands, formulated as reactions to the permanent homophobia that we face in our daily lives, are undoubtedly as important as our demands for equal rights. Legally we are no longer considered sick — but in many people's eyes gays are still potential pedophiles, a danger to children, selfish, hedonistic and profiteers. We supposedly want it all, pleasure, fun, and we refuse to accept the constraints and consequences of our actions.


Faced with this litany, the strategies adopted by gays and lesbians are not just individual choices. Our "look", our mores, the places we meet and relax, our choices whether or not to be closeted at work, at school, in our families, at the gym, in the choir — all these are areas in which we have an extremely limited set of available options. Our "choices" are more than anything else like forms of resistance to the everyday heteronormative pressures we feel. Imagine living in a world in which homosexuality was the norm, in which you spent 90 percent of your time in "gay" spaces, where you would be forced to "come out" because your girlfriend or your make-up just wasn't "right". Yes, that would be a nightmare....


This dimension, most often unspoken on the individual level, emerges visibly in pride marches. The specific demands we put forward cannot be understood apart from this backdrop.


The symbolic order is still the moral order


Make no mistake, what our intellectuals and scientists call the Symbolic Order, what is supposed to be defended against gay and lesbian hedonists, is nothing other than the good old Moral Order.


As the LCR already decided at its last congress, the principle of equal rights for gays and straights should be the central criterion for our demands. This equality must be attained not only between different forms of partnership but also among individuals; a married person should not reap any benefits from his or her marital status.


Gays and lesbians' public, daily battles are in the interest of all people who reject naturalist gender roles, the requirement that sex be only for procreation, the patriarchal family, or male domination.