France’s National Assembly voted on Thursday 16 May to strike out the word “race” in any existing legislation that governs the country, even as members of the main opposition Union for Popular Movement labelled the move as overly idealistic. “In eliminating the legal category of race, the Assembly has helped our country move forward on ideological and educational levels,” said the text’s author, MP Francois Asensi, a member of the far-left Left Front coalition that sponsored the bill.
The bill’s supporters argued that the term, which appears at least six times in France’s penal code and other legal texts, could be interpreted as a category of people. “The word ‘race’ has no scientific validity and it has been the basis for racist ideologies,” the preamble to the bill declared. Under the new law, France will not recognise the existence of any distinct race or races. Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, who as an MP in 2001 authored a law defining slavery as a crime against humanity, said she applauded the bill’s adoption.
Members of the ruling Socialist Party had rallied behind the measure, claiming it was a first step in a larger reform to delete “race” from France’s constitution. President François Hollande’s winning platform in the 2012 elections included a measure to omit the word from France’s most important legal document. The term “race” appears just once in the French constitution. “[France] guarantees the equality of all citizens before the law, regardless of their origin, race or religion,” it states.
However, Hollande’s idea seems destined to fall flat, as a change in the constitution requires a difficult to clear three-fifths majority in both the National Assembly and the upper-house Senate. Opponents of the bill approved on Thursday decried that the ban would create a legal void between the constitution and legislation. They also pointed out that it did nothing to diminish racism or hate crimes. “You can not change reality by simply changing the words… you’re wasting a lot of time and energy on illusions,” argued Lionel Tardy, an MP with the opposition UMP party, who voted against the change.
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