A demonstrator waves a flag on the Champ de Mars near the
Eiffel Tower in Paris, to protest France's planned
legalisation of same-sex marriage. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
Several hundred thousand people massed at the Eiffel
Tower in Paris to protest against President Francois Hollande's
plan to legalise gay marriage and adoption by June.
Three columns of protesters, waving pink and blue flags
showing a father, mother and two children, converged on the
landmark from different meeting points in Paris. Many came
after long train and bus rides from the provinces.
Hollande has pledged to push through the law with his
Socialists' parliamentary majority but the opponents'
campaign has dented public support and forced deputies to put
off a plan to allow lesbian couples access to artificial
Champ de Mars park at the Eiffel Tower was packed, but
turnout estimates varied widely. Organisers claimed 800,000
had protested, while police put the number at 340,000, high
even in protest-prone France.
"Nobody expected this two or three months ago," said Frigide
Barjot, a flamboyant comedian leading the "Demo for All". At
the rally, she read out a letter to Hollande asking him to
withdraw the draft bill and hold an extended public debate on
Strongly backed by the Catholic Church hierarchy, Barjot and
groups working with her mobilised church-going families and
political conservatives as well as some Muslims, evangelicals
and even homosexuals opposed to gay marriage to protest.
Hollande's office said the turnout was "substantial" but
would not change his determination to pass the reform.
TOLERANT BUT CONCERNED
"The French are tolerant, but they are deeply attached to the
family and the defence of children," said Daniel Liechti,
vice-president of the National Council of French
Evangelicals, which urged its members to join the march.
Opponents of gay marriage and adoption, including most faith
leaders in France, have argued that the reform would create
psychological and social problems for children, which they
believe should trump the desire for equal rights for gay
Hollande has angered those opposed to same-sex marriage by
trying to avoid public debate on the reform, which Justice
Minister Christiane Taubira described as "a change of
civilisation", and then wavering about some of its details.
His clumsy handling of other promises, such as a 75 percent
tax on the rich that was ruled unconstitutional, and a
faltering struggle against rising unemployment have dented
his popularity in recent opinion polls.
CATHOLIC PROTESTS IN BRITAIN, ITALY
Same-sex weddings are legal in 11 countries including
Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Norway and
South Africa, as well as nine U.S. states and Washington D.C.
Over 1,000 Catholic clerics in Britain issued a protest
letter on Saturday against plans to legalise gay marriage
In Italy, the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano on Sunday
condemned a court ruling against a father who sought custody
of his son because the mother now lives with her female
The marches in near-freezing temperatures included young and
old protesters, many of them couples with children in tow, in
strollers or on their fathers' shoulders.
"I am perfectly happy that homosexual couples have rights and
are recognised from a civil point of view," said protester
Vianney Gremmel. "But I have questions regarding adoption."
Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, a Catholic leader who launched
the opposition with a critical sermon in August, greeted
protesters in southern Paris but did not march with them.
Support for gay marriage in France has slipped by about 10
percentage points to under 55 percent since opponents began
speaking out, according to surveys, and fewer than half of
those polled recently wanted gays to win adoption rights.
Under this pressure, legislators dropped a plan to also allow
lesbians access to artificial insemination.
Organisers insist they are not against gays and lesbians but
for the rights of children to have a father and mother.
Slogans on the posters and banners approved by the organisers
included "marriagophile, not homophobe," "all born of a
father and mother" and "paternity, maternity, equality."
Civitas, a far-right Catholic group that sees homosexuality
as a sin, staged a much smaller march along another route.