French Couples Are Using Civil Unions as Starter Marriages

pacsAh, young love– you fall for someone and want to declare your eternal affection, but aren’t sure it’ll last forever. What to do? Well, if you’re like one of a half million French people, you’ll grab yourself a civil union. Originally meant to placate the gays, the Civil Solidarity Pact, or PACS is now a popular option for straight couple looking to for many of the benefits of marriage, with a lot less hassle. One man getting PACS’d said, “It’s a first step toward marriage”. Yes, for gay people, too.

The Washington Post reports

“The number of PACS celebrated in France, both gay and heterosexual unions, has grown from 6,000 in its first year of operation in 1999 to more than 140,000 in 2008, according to official statistics. For every two marriages in France, a PACS is celebrated, the statistics show, making a total of half a million PACSed couples, and the number is rising steadily.

Yves Padovani, chief clerk at the Marseille court, said couples stream through his office every day at half-hour intervals and make appointments three months in advance to get a slot.

Perhaps more important as an indication of how French people live, the number of heterosexual men and women entering into a PACS agreement has grown from 42 percent of the total initially to 92 percent last year.

That was not what conservative opponents of the measure foresaw in 1999. They viewed it as an encouragement of homosexuality and organized rallies to denounce the Socialists for undermining morality in France. Christine Boutin, housing minister under conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, was among the most vociferous critics and still complains that the PACS harms society by serving as a substitute for marriage.

In recognition of the PACS’s growing popularity, however, a half-dozen French cities, skirting the terms of the law, have recently begun holding marriagelike PACS ceremonies in the often ornate city hall rooms formerly reserved for weddings. Most of those cities are run by Socialist mayors. But Christian Estrosi, mayor of Nice and a close Sarkozy ally, also has put his city on the list, indicating rising acceptance of PACS unions even among political conservatives. “

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  • DL

    I want to know why they’re using The Alamo as their logo.

  • Sebbe

    I see it as a good thing and it is actually very common and growing in popularity in many European countries.

  • Robert, NYC


    Sebbe, actually the UK is the only country in the world that offers civil partnerships with EVERY right and privilege of marriage without the name and also the right to adopt as well as take your partner’s last name upon conclusion of a partnership formation. They are peformed in a registrar’s office (same for civil marriages) but are exclusively for gay couples, so far, straight couples are not allowed to have them since they can obviously marry. I’m not so sure if straight couples would opt for a partnership if they were available to them. I see no point. Other than that, there is no distinction between marriage and civil partnerships in the UK, only the name.

    However, in France, PACs are limited to a few rights of marriage and do not include the right to adopt children either. The only problem with UK civil partnerships is that they are not portable once you leave the UK. To date, as you are probably aware, only six countries so far (soon Sweden will make that seven come May 2009)allow same-sex marriage, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Norway, Canada and South Africa. Each recognizes each other’s same sex marriages.

    Foreign born same-sex couples who marry outside the UK automatically have their marriages recognized oddly as civil partnerships once they enter the UK or reside there. Its a bit absurd since those couples hold a valid marriage certificate not a certificate of civil partnership. Hopefully in time that will change. All that needs to be done in the UK is to change the title, nothing more.

  • Sebbe

    @Robert – Not true

    I know for a fact that Sweden has allowed since 1995 (third in the world after our Nordic neigbhors Norway and Denmark) for gays with all rights and privileges with the exception of forcing the unions to be preformed in the state church (Church of Sweden) known as the Registered Partnership act (loose English translation). Gays in Sweden have been allowed all rights and privileges since that date including adoption with the exception of invitro fertilization for lesbians which was granted in 2005.

    Sweden also has a lesser common-law marriage which is open to both hetrosexual and homosexual couples since 1998 and brought under the same legislation, I believe around 2005.

    While not yet required, the Church of Sweden (Sveriges kyrkan) does now have a formal ceremony (blessing) that is performed for gays and lesbians and has been approved by the church hierarchy since 2007.

    And yes as you mentioned it is widely assumed that all of these laws will be replaced with a gender neutral marriage law for all this year (maybe as soon as May). These marriages are to be preformed by both the state and the Church of Sweden (and presumably other religious organizations if they so choose, although those smaller churches play a VERY minor role in Swedish society).

    As one would expect, support for marriage equality is highly supported by the swedish populace and 7 out of the 8 political parties represented in the Riksdag are supportive of this measure. The only political party that disapproves of this is the Kristdemokraterna (Christian Democrats) who currently hold 24 seats out of 349 (6.50%) in the Riksdag (Sweden has a unicameral legislature).

    To be honest, I am not as sure about the specifics of the laws of the neighboring nordic nations.

  • Sebbe

    Oh and many straight couples do opt for these partnerships in swedish, known commonly as ones “Sambo”. Gays who have opted for the higher protections use the same language as hetros (gifta).

  • Sebbe

    As far as the name changes, I’m not so sure, that is a much tricker matter in Sweden and most straight couples no longer change their names either. Unlike in most anglo countries, one does not simply have the right to choose any name they like for themselves or their child as it must be approved by skattverket (the tax authority or IRS) for all.

  • atdleft

    Sigh. Why can’t we at least do this in California? I’ve toyed with the idea of doing away with government-sanctioned marriage and just supporting domestic partnerships/civil unions for all. But hey, I won’t complain if the state supreme court just overturns H8 this spring & brings the state back into the 21st century!

    Btw, is there any plan in France to either open up marriage to same-sex couples or just having everyone do civil unions?

  • Alco

    @atdleft: Nop, no plan at the moment. France may seem open on the matter but is still in my opinion latently homophobic, at least in the old generation. I can’t see a civil partnership or a real gender neutral being introduced just yet and adoption is out of the question for a lot of people.

  • Sebbe

    France does recognize foreign same sex marriages though don’t they? Wasn’t there a case. The support is growing every year with the public and is very high with the youth.

    And that Ms. Boutin referred to above is a douche, I actually met her once, which I won’t go into, but trust me.

    I think it is more likely to be forced through EU legislation first. Unfortunately in this instance (and many others), the admittance, of many eastern European countries has slowed the progress as it has diminished the influence of the smaller progressive nations of Northern Europe namely Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Belgium, et al.

    While it might make more sense, the idea of doing away with government sanctioned marriages is probably a pipe dream for at least generations to come in the US.

  • transracial

    It would be interesting to compare the percentage of hetero-vs-homo civil unions in a country like france that does not permit full-on marriage compared to countries where couples regardless of gender are allowed to formally marry.

    my question: do gays want marriage or civil unions or the option for both?

    i am not sure

  • Sebbe

    @transracial – we or rather I want whatever our straight counterparts are offered as far as choices. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • Sebbe

    @transracial – I have seen many articles on the comparison in Swedish press over the years. I will try and find a few and translate for you if you like.

  • Anon

    Svenska Kyrkan, Sebbe, det heter Svenska Kyrkan.

  • Sebbe

    opps, Sveriges Kyrkan, stavfel – LOL

  • Phillip

    Je me suis pacsé!

  • Robert, NYC

    Sebbe…..the UK also allows gay couples to have invitro fertilization using the National Health System. Belgium does NOT allow its gay married couples to adopt children if they are not biological. The UK allows both, including single parents, gay or straight.

    France does NOT yet recognize the UK’s civil partnerships, whereas the UK recognizes PAC’s. There is ongoing discussion between both governments to have mutual recognition of each other’s gay partnerships. So far, under Sarkozy, France is dragging its feet. He has already committed to not allowing same-sex marriage, not surprising coming from a conservative.

    Spain is the only country in Europe so far that fully recognizes UK civil partnerships as an equivalent to its own same-sex marriage laws.

    I think civil unions or civil partnerships should be available to everyone as marriage should be. People should have choices when it comes to forming legal relationships, neither should be exclusive to either orientation. That would be true equality.

    I don’t see the EU commission mandating same-sex marriage. They can only issue a directive on that, not mandate it because of cultural differences among member states. There is already a recommendation that same-sex legal relationships should be recognized in all member states, nothing more. Personally, I would like to see marriage mandated, but in reality, its not going to happen.

  • Sebbe

    @Robert – the most logical would be that it would have to be a small part of a future treaty. In which case, individual cases would need to be brought before the judiciary of individual states whom could then mandate the legislature to alter its statues.

    I know, daunting and unlikely to happen anytime soon, but the fact that you say I cannot be mandated because of cultural differences among member states is false legal reasoning.

    Practicality is of course a whole different ball game, specifically when considering the admission of many states that are decades behind when it come to human rights. It will be interesting to see. I predict we will see two paths within the European Union on this issue and many others, just as we see two paths in the United States with one set of states going one way and another going the opposite direction.

  • Robert, NYC


    Sebbe, as far as the U.S. is concerned with 30 states now with bans on same-sex marriage… amount of federal legislation will compel those 30 states to offer marriage to LGBT citizens unless the Supreme Court steps in, which I doubt, not with it stacked in favor of right wing politics that are anti-gay.

    As a citizen of the UK and U.S., I don’t think the EU Commission will mandate marriage equality in all member states, but I do see a push for civil unions instead, a step in the right direction but not far enough, and with 5 western European countries offering marriage (Sweden the 5th come May), those five countries must get assurance from the EU commision that their same-sex marriages are recognized for what they are, not downgraded to civil unions, partnerships or pacs, whichever form they take across the EU and recogized in other member states. Further, in the absence of every member state being compelled to offer full marriage, EU gay citizens should be allowed to have a civil marriage in those countries where they can marry and be entitled to full recognition once they return to their respective countries where there are no marriage equality laws. If anything, that could well be mandated.

  • Sebbe

    @Robert – I agree and I am also a dual national. Although, I do disagree on the path that will eventually be taken in the US. It certainly will go before the Supreme Court as some point after federal legislation is challenged (and passed). But, I do not believe that will be the end of it there either. Just like abortion is a settled issue for by and far the majority of Americans, there will continue to be a small but vocal minority once gay marriage is eventually settled in the states. Of course, who knows how much is going to happen on either side of the pond during our lifetimes.

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