Clément Meric is dead. And two years later, he is not forgotten.
Memories of the violent death of the gay rights and antifascist activist at the hands of far-right militants opposed to marriage equality spurred a march this month by more than 2,000 people in Paris and another in his French hometown of Vannes.
Meric, 18, was killed June 5, 2013, during a fight with skinheads in an apartment in the St. Lazare area. He and a group of leftist activists had clashed with extremists described by the interior minister as Neo Nazis. Four of the men were indicted for the French equivalent of manslaughter and are still on trial. They and three antifascist activists who were with Meric at the time of his death were summoned late last month to the spot where he died for a court-ordered reenactment.
And there are fears we could see reenactments of that nature on this side of the Atlantic once the Supreme Court rules either for or against the right that Meric and LGBT Americans have fought for, to have their love recognized by the law.
Some conservatives, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, seeking the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, have conceded the battle and say they grudgingly accept marriages of same-sex couples. Graham has even sought the vote of transgender conservative Caitlyn Jenner.
Others, such as fellow Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, have dug in and are bracing for an undefined “battle” against supporters of LGBT rights. On NBC’s Meet the Press May 31, Santorum said, “I will continue to fight, as I have on the issue of life,” referring to the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which held that every woman has a right to an abortion.
“I think it's important to understand that the Supreme Court doesn’t have the final word,” he said ominously. “It has its word. Its word has validity. But it’s important for Congress and the president, frankly, to push back when the Supreme Court gets it wrong.”
That sentiment is shared back in France among the mostly conservative Catholics who seek to turn back marriage equality, to unring the bell of liberty for same-sex couples. And it is a war that is indeed marked by blood.
In the two years since the courts and French President Francois Hollande ushered in Mariage Pour Tous, or Marriage for All, violent demonstrations for and against marriage equality have racked the overwhelmingly Catholic nation.
Supporters cheered the legal victory. "Love has won out over hate," Helene Mandroux, mayor of the southern city of Montpellier, said in 2013.
But as The Advocate has been reporting over the past two years, LGBT people have also been routinely attacked, politicians targeted with threatening letters, and protests by opponents of same-sex marriage grown increasingly confrontational. Overall, episodes of violence have increased dramatically.
The number of reported homophobic acts in France increased in 2013 by a staggering 78 percent, according to a watchdog group. That year, there was a homophobic physical attack every two days in France, with the total representing a rise of 54 percent over 2012.
That is just one of the worrying stats contained in a new report by French gay rights organisation SOS Homophobie, which monitors the levels of homophobia in the country. The great rise in reported acts of homophobia came the same year that the country legalized same-sex marriage.
“In the last 20 years the number of reports of incidents [of homophobia] received by our association have not stopped growing, but in 2013 they exploded,” the group's report read.
According to the watchdog group, the huge surge in the number of homophobic incidents was without doubt linked to the bitter row over marriage equality.
Like we're already seeing in the United States, some conservative politicans see in the chaos, an opportunity. As The Advocate reported last November, Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been married three times, is staking out a position for a possible run to reclaim his job as president in 2017. Sarkozy opposes legalizing surrogacy in France as well as the right of same-sex parents to adopt children. Of the current marriage equality law, he said, “It has to be rewritten from the ground up," according to a translation by France24. "This is not a choice." The audience in attendance last fall chanted "Repeal! Repeal!" and Sarkozy agreed. "OK, if you are saying we should repeal it and pass a new law, it comes down to the same thing, and it achieves the same result."
To make that happen here, more than 44,500 Americans — including presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum and evangelist Franklin Graham — have signed on to a campaign to defy the court. Opponents of marriage equality hope to push for a new law that will make any ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court moot. They include conservative author Robert Oscar Lopez, a professor at California State Univeristy and a bisexual, who says he was raised by his lesbian mother and her lover. Lopez posts his thoughts denouncing marriage equality at The Public Discourse website:
“It is time for Americans to follow France’s lead. … They have given us the necessary rhetoric and republican logic to present a strong case against redefining marriage. They have provided us a playbook for mobilizing across party lines. ...
“The French are by and large willing to stay out of the bedrooms of people who love one another, irrespective of sex.
“Such live-and-let-live philosophy does not apply when the citizens see a threat to the nation’s children. Here is where Americans must follow their playbook closely, because it is probably the surest way to break the stalemate in the United States about marriage and the Fourteenth Amendment.
“In France, a repeating refrain is 'the rights of children trump the right to children.'”
But what about the child who was named Clément Meric? He and the other French victims of antigay violence were beaten and harassed because their support for love ran contrary to views held by many French conservatives. One can just as easily imagine a backlash here against marriage equality fueled in part by hatred of “anti-American” activists who are LGBT.
And that fear, that the violence seen throughout France in the two years since the nation legalized same-sex marriage, could find its way here is borne out by the most recent statistics, showing an 11 percent increase in homicides of LGBT and HIV-affected people.
The number of incidents of anti-LGBT violence in 2014, the most recent year available, was 1,359. Of these, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs says:
- 80 percent of all homicide victims in 2014 were people of color, yet LGBT and HIV-affected people of color only represented 41 percent of total survivors and victims.
- 35 percent of homicide victims were gay or bisexual men.
- LGBT and HIV-affected low income survivors were 2.1 times more likely to experience hate violence at the workplace, when compared with other survivors.
- LGBT young people were 2.5 times more likely to be injured due to hate violence, and 2.1 times more likely to require medical attention, when compared to other survivors.
- Only 6 percent of hate violence incidents reported to the police were classified as bias crimes, a substantial decrease — 24 percent — from 2013.
"We do not forgive. We do not forget," proclaimed the banners to honor Clément Meric in France last week. And 5,600 miles away in Los Angeles, on the precipice of a landmark marriage ruling, LGBT marchers celebrated Pride this month. Watching from the sidelines were protesters bearing banners of their own. "Repent, Turn from your Sin — to Jesus," and "God Will Judge the World in Righteousness." Others declared, "Homo Sex Is a Sin" and "God Hates You."
For now, the two sides were separated by barricades.