In 1999, France legalized civil unions called . The Pacs is essentially a contract drawn up by a couple and registered by a county clerk. The couple is granted some, but not all, of the joint tax benefits and financial privileges of marriage. At the same time, they do not have the same inheritance rights or adoption rights as a married couple does. However, the individuals are no longer considered “single”. They file their taxes accordingly, the women are addressed as Madame, (the title equivalent to Mrs.) and their paper work reflects them as pacsé.
To dissolve the union, the couple has to write a letter to their court. “If they want to break up, however, they don’t need expensive lawyers or lengthy divorce proceedings. All they have to do is state their desire to call things off in an official letter to their locally competent legal court.”
While the union was originally created to legally acknowledge same-sex couples, heterosexual couples wanted in. Apparently, in an effort to grant rights to the homosexual community, France was ironically fulfilling a need in the heterosexual one: to be acknowledged as a couple and granted financial privileges without the hefty legal costs of divorce. According to bonjourparis.com, in 2009, ten years after the Pacs was established, a majority of the couples entering it were heterosexual. “94 percent of the newly Pacséd couples were of different sexes just as they would be in a classical marriage.”
When the Pacs dissolves it doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship is terminated, in some cases the couple decides to marry. (The statistic for those couples vary because it only applied to heterosexuals.) “Sociologists studying the institution interpret this as a strong sign that, in today’s modern society, a young French couple wants to use the PACS not to avoid a long-term commitment but to give it a trial period to be sure it will last, particularly if the long-term goal is to have children and found a family.”
What I find to be the most interesting out of all of this is, when the civil union was originally put into place it was for the benefit of same-sex couples, yet it has become a vehicle for opposite-sex couples–even though it grants them only a portion of the rights that marriage does. So, even given the opportunity to have “marital rights”, heterosexual couples were still choosing to have a limited version.
In 2010 there were 196,000 heterosexual couples who chose to enter a Pacs to 252,000 couples who chose to marry. Why? Is it to lessen the severity of divorce? Is it to avoid commitment? to play house? If it’s as trivial as the last two then would there be such a high outcome? Perhaps it has become a marriage lite: a way of side-stepping the marital pressures of society, while still maintaining a committed relationship.
As of Tuesday, April 23, France legalized gay marriage. I’m curious to learn, now that gay marriage is legal, what will become of the Pacs? Will France do away with it or will it now be a buffer for both heterosexual and homosexual marriages?
Our society is evolving, with gay marriage on the rise, civil unions will become a thing of the past. Will this one-time anomaly of the pacte civil de solidarité ever be repeated? Even if couples are somehow benefiting from it? How or why they are benefiting we may not know right now, but, its popularity among straight couples could shed light on a better future for marriage.