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Martinique: Homophobia and Segolene Royal's Socialist Party

The French Socialist Party's presidential candidate Segolene Royal. Photo by Manuel MC.

Le Blog de [Moi], the blog of an out Martiniquan lesbian, tackled a budding controversy in local Martiniquan politics last week. Martinique, though in the Americas, is a French Overseas Department (what the French call a D.O.M.) and Martiniquans are French citizens. Mainland French politicians therefore have to court Martiniquan voters and French Presidential candidate Segolene Royal is no exception. The candidate of the French Socialist Party (which I'll call SP for short), she would be the first French woman president if elected and as part of her campaign she is planning a visit to Martinique soon. However, she has a brewing controversy in her hands because apparently officials of her party in Martinique are holding a discourse about homosexuality and gay marriage that is very different from the one held by officials of the very same party in France.

Le Blog de [Moi] opened up an interesting debate about this very issue in the following words:

Les dates de la venue de la candidate du Parti Socialiste dans l’île, attendue fin janvier, font l’objet de nombre de spéculations. Reportée une première fois, cette visite est attendue à plus d’un titre : … pour une clarification nécessaire de [la] position [de Segolene Royal] vis-à-vis d’un certain nombre de propos homophobes tenus par des élus so cialistes de premier plan, dont Marlène Lanoix (première secrétaire fédérale) et Raymond Occolier (délégué national du PS à l’éducation et à la mémoire), sous couvert de la religion (tous deux sont de confession chrétienne).

The arrival dates of the Socialist Party candidate in the island, expected at the end of January are the object of much speculation. … The visit is highly anticipated … because a clarification is needed of her position vis-a-vis a certain number of homophobic comments made by high profile elected Socialists including Marlene Lanoix (first federal secretary) and Raymond Occolier (national delegate of the Socialist Party to Education and memory), under the guise of religion (both are christian).

The blogger continues:

Pour ces élus PS, le PaCS est une “dérive de société décadente” et ses partisan(e)s sont accusés de “galvauder” le mot de “liberté”. L’homosexualité est assimilé l’inceste et ils s’opposent finalement à l’ouverture du mariage et de l’adoption aux couples de même sexe au nom, de la “tradition chrétienne”. Raymond Occolier, conseiller régional PS de Martinique et maire du Vauclin, a notamment déclaré en pleine université de rentrée de la fédération PS de Martinique : “Je ne veux pas de mariage homosexuel ! S’ils veulent être homosexuels, c’est leur droit ! Et puis dans la Bible, Dieu dit que c’est une abomination !“. Nous parlons bien d’élus de la République française dite laïque.

For those SP elected officials, [French civil union law] PaCS is an “excess of a decadent society” and its partisans are being accused of “sullying” the word “freedom”. They lump homosexuality together with incest and they oppose the opening of marriage and of adoption to same-sex couples in the name of “christian tradition”. Raymond Occolier, a member of the Regional Council for Martinique and Mayor of Vauclin, even stated….: ” I do not want gay mariage! If they want to be gay, it's their right. And in the Bible, God says that it is an abomination!” We are talking here about elected officials of the French Republic which is by definition secular.

An Nou Allé … s’est saisie très tôt des éléments les plus récents de l’affaire … en demandant clairement à la direction du PS d’une part la condamnation de propos contraires à la laïcité et d’autre part que des sanctions soient envisagées et appliquées. A ce jour, le PS et Victorin Lurel (secrétaire national du PS à l’Outre-Mer) notamment à certes condamné les propos tenus mais au niveau des sanctions c’est une autre paire de manche. Contrairement à ce qui a été dit en novembre 2006, Marlène Lanoix n’a toujours pas été traduite devant la commission nationale des conflits du PS et Raymond Occolier, lui, n’ayant pas de mandat national, n’a pas non plus été traduit devant la commission locale du PS ! Vous avez dit impunité ?

[Local Gay Advocacy Group] An Nou Allereacted early to the issues in this case by clearly asking the SP headquarters to on the one hand condemn the non-secular comments made and on the other to envision and apply sanctions. To this day, the SP and Victorin Lurel specifically (national secretary of the SP in the Overseas Departments and Territories) definitely condemned the comments but when it comes to sanctions, it's a different story. Contrary to what was said in November 2006, Marlene Lanoix has still not been brought to the national commission of conflicts in the SP and Raymond Occolier not having a national mandate, has not been summoned to the local SP commission! Can you say impunity?

But what about the SP candidate in all this? Still according to [Moi]:

Ségolène Royal n’a à ce jour pas fait de commentaires sur cette affaire (qui concerne également un élu guadeloupéen en la personne de Jules Otto) alors que le projet socialiste adopté en mai 2006 est clair: “Le mariage et l’adoption seront ouverts aux couples de même sexe”. Que fera donc ce cher Monsieur Occolier en cas de victoire PS aux prochaines élections si tant est que les promesses soient tenues ? La question mérite d’être posée…

Segolene Royal has to this day not commented on the issue (in which Guadeloupean official Jules Otto is also implicated) when the socialist project adopted in May 2006 is clear: “Marriage and adoption are open to same-sex couples”. What will Mr. Occolier do in case the SP wins the next elections if promises are to be kept? The question is worth asking…

Blog readers weighed in and Kat had this to say :

Oui c’est ça l’ennui : savoir si le PS tiendra parole ou non… Car on nous promet toujours bien des choses mais c’est très rare que les politiques les mettent en application.

Thus is the problem: whether the SP will keep its promise or not…Because, politicians are good at promises but not very good at applying them.

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  • interesting post…the question i have is if it’s acceptable that a public official uses religion as a basis for their personal beliefs on a public policy question? or should they be a mouthpiece for those who elected them?…is it more acceptable to use a secular reason to argue against homosexual marriage? what is the real issue here?

  • The real issue here is that it’s a secular state ! Religion don’t have to interfere. That’s the point.
    By the way, it isn’t more acceptable to use secular reason to argue against homosexual marriage.

  • ok, but if reason has no role in public debate on issues, then why not simply use religious arguments, or emotive arguments? my point here is that even if you don’t think there can be any rational argument to support a ban on homosexual marriages, surely you don’t think that the way we arrive at such conclusions should be outside public discourse conducted rationally? how do you arrive at your conclusion that secular reason could not support a ban? what’s your argument? simply that you are right?

  • (Forgive me, Moi, for putting words in your mouth.) IMHO, I don’t think that by her comment Moi meant that “reason has no role in public debate.” She’s just not personally willing to entertain any argument – rational or religious – that homosexuality is wrong, although (I assume) she would hardly deny others the right to do so.

    In general, I think you would be hard-pressed convincing an out lesbian blogger that any rational argument would justify her being denied the right to marry a woman she loves. It would be the same as trying to convince me that my mother and father should not have been allowed to marry because there are some who have crafted “rational” arguments that show miscegenation of the races is not only sinful, it’s socially harmful. The idea is so contrary to my very existence, and the right answer so self-evident, that seriously entertaining rational arguments on the subject seems just as ridiculous as contemplating the religious ones. But it doesn’t mean I would want to deny others the right to do so.

    The other comment I would make is that the French concept of “laicite” is a much stronger version of secularism than what exists in most anglophone countries, so statements of opinion made by French politicians on the basis of their religious beliefs would be highly controversial in ways that they are not on the US, for example. (That said, didn’t Sarkozy recently say something to the effect of, “the state should consider spirtual matters?”) Now, you could of course debate whether laicite is an acceptable political principle, but it’s the law in France (and presumably in Martinique), and so on that basis politicians (and young Muslim schoolgirls) are not supposed to bring their private religion into public life. Period.

    Anyway, I think it’s absolutely fascinating to see the extreme disconnect between French and Martinique public debate on this issue!

  • […] A local Martiniquan gay rights site claims that Raymond Occolier, a local official known for past homophobic statements, has announced that he will hold a local referendum if a same-sex marriage law passes in mainland France. Le Blog de [Moi] (Fr) responds, after protracted analysis of relevant laws, that “none of the cited local entities… is [legally] competent to organize such a referendum.” Alice Backer […]

  • Patrick

    Hi Jen,

    I love your analysis.

    A Ted fellow from Martinique.

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