Le Monde, one of the big French papers, has a couple of articles up about the pacs here, or French civil unions. They are pretty much the same thing as marriage without any of the rights related to children and they're easier to dissolve (only one person has to want to get a divorce, they don't have to go before a judge, and infidelity can't be used against a partner in dividing things up, very necessary for the French). They were created in 1998 for gays but they're open to everyone.
According to a recent government study, same-sex couples now make up less than 7% of the people entering pacs, even though we were 43% of those people in 1999. While the number of pacs being signed has increased each year to 77,000 in 2006, the number of marriages in France hasn't decreased in the past seven years, so these unions are probably coming from people who would otherwise not be married.
When it comes to divorce, the pacs are doing about as well as marriages:
During the violent discussions that accompanied the creation of pacs, their detractors criticized the ease of dissolution by saying they'd break like Kleenex. In reality, despite the contract's flexibility, the study showed that pacs aren't any more fragile than marriages: after six years, the "indicator of rupture" of pacs for a man and a woman has risen to 18.9%, a rate close to that of the "indicator of divorce" of marriage after seven years, which has reached 18.2%.
Yeah, I know, their divorce rate is still a lot smaller than ours is.
But I can see how the pacs have become so popular here - just about everything is easier when you have a partner and you can save a lot of money on paperwork, rent, and other things when you're married. Having just gone through the paperwork hell that is moving to France, with the proper paperwork required for everything, I think people would do just about anything to avoid any more of it. (For example, for a bank account out here you absolutely need a home and an address. To rent a place you need a bank account. So either you know someone with a couch or you're out of luck. In fact, that double bind is contributing to rising homelessness in Paris.)
It's a country set up to run on marriages and benefit those in them but it's also one that makes it hard to get out of them. So French civil unions have benefited more than just same-sex couples, they've benefited opposite-sex ones as well. Especially since the original detractors, the same sorts you'd find in the US, had the same arguments about "traditional morality" and whatnot, but same-sex couples helped create a space for another type of union that helped even heterosexuals who wanted to escape the "traditional morality".
Isn't this just a great example of how queerness can provide insight into even heterosexual relationships and how chipping away a little at heteropatriarchy benefits everyone?