The City of Rainbow Lights: ‘Gay’ Eiffel Tower Ignites Controversy

By Ryan Kierman | July 16, 2013 | 2:36 PM EDT


Eiffel Tower (France TV)

( – Defenders of traditional marriage in France cried foul Sunday after the Eiffel Tower was briefly lit up with rainbow colors during Bastille Day celebrations – a move that even some high-level French officials claim was a tacit nod to a controversial French law legalizing gay marriage in that country.

However, Bertrand Delanoë, the socialist mayor of Paris who was responsible for organizing the national holiday, claimed that the uncommon color scheme had nothing to do with the recent law legalizing le mariage pour tous (“marriage for all”), but instead was a salute to South Africa, which is occasionally referred to as “the rainbow nation.”

The two-minute light show was accompanied by “Asimbonanga,” a Zulu/English song paying tribute, the mayor said, to ailing former South Africa president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela., who will be 95 on Thursday.

It is not clear why the Bastille Day festivities, which the mayor himself acknowledged beforehand were a celebration of “The Republic,” included a nod to South Africa, a country that has never been part of the francophone [French-speaking nations].

Pro-marriage supporters booed and pro-gay advocates cheered when the iconic symbol of France suddenly went aglow with the colors of the rainbow, reviving a deep-felt cultural division two months after the nation passed a controversial law legalizing gay marriage.

“The mayor has taken the responsibility to place Paris under the sign of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ and to render homage to Nelson Mandela,” commented a member of the Parisian mayor’s administration.

But many on both sides of the marriage debate found the mayor’s comments unconvincing.

Luc Chatel, vice-president of the French political party The Union for a Popular Movement, called the lighting choice a “provocation” and charged President Francois Hollande – also a member of the French le Parti Socialiste – with “pitt[ing] the French against one another” over the issue of gay marriage.

The debate migrated to Twitter, with many denouncing LBGT “propaganda” and others praising what one user called a “little wink towards marriage for all.”

One translated tweet said: "I am gay and I find the LBGT colors on the Eiffel Tower Lamentable! What can the government be searching but to divide the French?"

South Africa… with your finger, [you] have drawn a rainbow in the sky for peace…  All living beings, man, woman, and child are equal… It’s a brush, it’s a palette of which each human in a nuance,” individuals of various ages and ethnicities can be heard saying over the loudspeaker as France’s most famous icon flashed in rainbow colors.

With the technocolor lights still illuminating the iconic tower, the song “Sabali” by the Malian band Amadou and Miriam began playing. The translated lyrics are:

If you love someone, patience is worth everything

If you love a man, patience is worth everything

If you love a woman, patience is worth everything

Patience, patience, patience is good.”

Bastille Day, as it is known in the English-speaking world, is the French national holiday commemorating the July 1789 siege of the fortified prison La Bastille by angered revolutionaries.  The equivalent of the American Fourth of July, the event marked the beginning of  France’s long and bloody transition from a monarchy to a constitutional republic.

This isn’t the first time the iconic French radio tower and tourist hot-spot has become center stage for political protests surrounding the debate over gay marriage.  In April of this year, opponents of gay marriage displayed letters on poster boards from within the Eiffel Tower reading “No to Gay Marriage.”

Despite widespread opposition from those in favor of maintaining a traditional standard of marriage, on May 18th France became the 13th country to allow gay couples to wed.