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Progressive America, conservative France?

If you had to guess, where would you say a gay couple has a better chance of legally adopting a child: a) France or b) the United States? The answer, of course, is b. We all learned a lesson about the social progressiveness of Europe, as opposed to the conservative United States, last week when a French court declared, for the first time, that a lesbian could legally adopt a child as an individual.

That breakthrough, which came in an appeal of a lower court’s denial of the woman’s petition, put French law on a par with that of Texas. That state, like most others in the narrow-minded United States, already allowed gay individuals to petition for adoption. (To be sure, this right exists on paper but may be subject to ideological variation among local courts.) In addition, several U.S. states allow same-sex couples to marry, which they still can’t do in France. And there are some states -- California, Illinois and Oregon, for example -- that do not have gay marriage but still permit gay couples to petition to adopt.

However, it is still against the law in France for gay couples to adopt as couples. The government of President Nicolas Sarkozy -- who declared during his victorious 2007 campaign that France’s “model must remain that of a heterosexual family: children need a father and a mother” -- reaffirmed that ban after the court’s ruling. An official promptly announced that the government “respected” the court’s judgment but still opposed adoption by gay couples.

As for the rest of Europe, there are a couple of countries -- Italy and Latvia -- that still ban even gay individual adoptions. This could change in the wake of the French ruling, especially since the European Court of Human Rights had disapproved of France’s policy.

To be sure, four U.S. states -- Arkansas, Michigan, Mississippi, and Utah -- ban gay couple adoption, as France does. But these states also ban unmarried heterosexual couples from adopting. (Florida’s ban on gay adoptions, by individuals or couples, is in limbo after having been overturned by a trial court; the state is appealing.) In other states, the law is either permissive or uncertain. In other words, gay men and lesbians seemingly have somewhat greater adoption rights in the U.S. than they do in the second-largest country on the European continent, and in several smaller ones as well.

By Charles Lane  | November 17, 2009; 4:36 PM ET
Categories:  Lane  | Tags:  Charles Lane  
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I don't really buy this argument. It's a bit of a strawman. France is known as an economically progressive country, and is often seen as a haven of bohemianism and liberal lifestyles (at least in Paris). But people with more than a passing familiarity with the country also realize that it can be deeply culturally conservative, with strong anti-immigrant factions, prickliness about food and other folkways, and much of the social legacy of its former deep Catholicism and monarchism.

But even if I was to allow that France is some kind of crazy-left society that is nevertheless retrograde on gender politics, I don't believe that that excuses American injustice. Just because France is doing it doesn't mean we should. If that can hold true in terms of health care or employment policy, it can certainly hold true for civil rights.

Posted by: pipkin42 | November 17, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Oh wow, someone in Europe isn't so 'enlightened'. Guess what, those of us who have lived there already know that. Try getting an abortion in Germany, it's illegal. What! Can that be true? In 'enlightened' europe? Race relations are just great too. Maybe instead of looking to europe for solutions we should try using our own ideas.

Posted by: RGM1 | November 17, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

I think that what is more important is that, in the United States, same-gender parents cannot legally adopt anywhere.

The arguement that a child needs a mother and a father is non-sequitor. We see single parents juggling career and parenting all the time. and kids turn out just fine.

However, nobody can argue that it is in a child's best interests to have co-parents who share the responsibility of raising that child and providing each other the support to do so, legally and emotionally.

So why, then, would anyone want to deny gay couples the right to be the legal parents of the children that they are raising? Denying the child the right to be raised by two, legally valid parents doesn't harm the parents nearly as much as it harms the child.

Posted by: trambusto | November 17, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Suits me. Looks as though not all the French are as stupid as some of we Americans. And, they have had much, much longer than America to contemplate this problem. Depriving a child of a male/female parent structure is a crime in itself as far as I am concerned.

Posted by: surfer-joe | November 17, 2009 7:10 PM | Report abuse

meaningless labels. most european conservatives would be considered part of the far left in the usa by many measures

Posted by: praxitas | November 17, 2009 7:47 PM | Report abuse

Homosexuality is a filthy, disease-ridden practice explicitly condemned by God.

Posted by: tjhall1 | November 17, 2009 8:08 PM | Report abuse

"Homosexuality is a filthy, disease-ridden practice explicitly condemned by God."

Allahu Akbar, TJ, you SAID it! These western infidels have turned their arrogant heads away from the One True Bronze Age God and will pay for it. Just like those know-it-all heathen parents who refuse to STONE THEIR MISBEHAVING KIDS TO DEATH as Allah commands in Deuteronomy 21:18-21.

God is greatest! You go, TJHall1!

Posted by: B2O2 | November 17, 2009 8:22 PM | Report abuse

An important distinction between these debates in France and in the US is the kinds of claims that support the ban on lesbian/gay parents adopting. In France a kind of psychological argument is put forward about the need for a male and female to raise a psychologically healthy child; in the US the argument usually relies on a certain kind of religious claim. The French argument is decidedly secular whereas the US argument is often religious.

Posted by: jbinatl | November 17, 2009 11:47 PM | Report abuse

For those who imagine that France is some sort of uniformly "liberal" place by the American definition of that word, reality would surprise them somewhat. Sarkozy is famous as a right wing conservative in France, and despite nearly everyone who's at all progressive despising him deeply, he did manage to get elected.

On the other hand, Nicolas Sarkozy's positions would include absolute opposition to the death penalty, a total commitment to universal health care of the single-payer kind, and condemnation of the US's insane, counterproductive and illegal invasion of Iraq.

Those three positions alone would plant him firmly on the "progressive" side in the USA, despite actually being such a right winger in France.

There are no black and white easy divisions you can make about these trans-cultural things. The constant attempts to do so just confuse you, that is, all of the "wait, if it's "liberal" there, then why does...?" are just silly, it's not one way or the other, it's a mix.

Posted by: BillEPilgrim | November 18, 2009 12:33 AM | Report abuse


Of course, abortions can be legally performed in Germany. There were nearly 120.000 of them in 2007. It's just that certain rules apply (and women can easily travel to another country, anyway).

Americans usually struggle with the diversity of Europe. The article is no exception. One needs to be familiar with individual cultures and traditions to make such judgements. Gay marriage is possible in Belgium, even for French people if they reside in the country for a few weeks. French authorities are probably obliged to recognise these marriages under EU law.

Generally, the US is a country with an uptight morale and ideological mindsets. Europeans may have more traditions, but are generally rather relaxed. Nipplegate could not have occurred in Europe and we also don't put people into jail for oral sex.

Posted by: brux1 | November 18, 2009 7:41 AM | Report abuse

Per Sarkozy, “children need a father and a mother.”

Does a turkey baster count as a father?

Posted by: TheProFromDover | November 18, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

What is the half-thought out, sloppy, meaningless piece of confused writing doing on the op-ed page? It's probably fine as a adolescent's "blog", but doesn't deserve print in Washington. Wake up, editors!

Posted by: SydneyP | November 18, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

I don't agree either.
You can Google photos
of France's First lady
This guy is just sad he can't
adopt a baby in France.
and of course, compared
to Obama/pelosi/reid
a roman orgy is conservative.

Posted by: simonsays1 | November 18, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

I agree with B202 that we should bring back good old-fashioned biblical values like stoning the wicked. Consider that this form of punishment is both simple, effective, and very very cheap. It could also be something the whole family does together, thus promoting strong family values. It would not be any more cruel or unusual than a zillion volts of electricity shunted through the condemned evildoer's body. It's a win-win proposal of truly modest proportions.

Posted by: gorble | November 18, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

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