March against gay marriage in Paris
Three separate columns of protesters filed through the French capital today to protest against President Francois Hollande's plan to legalise gay marriage and adoption by June.
Several hundred thousand protesters - a mix of Catholics, conservatives, Muslims, evangelicals and homosexuals against gay nuptials - rallied at the Eiffel Tower where the separate columns met.
Columns of young and old protesters waving approved pink-and-white posters walked through Paris in near freezing temperatures, many of them couples with children in tow, in strollers or on their fathers' shoulders.
Mr Hollande promised the reform in his election campaign and has enough votes in parliament to pass it easily.
The president angered many opponents by trying to slip the reform through parliament without much public debate and has wavered about some of the details. His clumsy handling of other promises, such as a 75 per cent tax on the rich that was ruled unconstitutional or his faltering struggle against rising unemployment, has soured the public mood. A mass street protest can hardly help his image.
TV host Virginie Merle, aka Frigide Barjot, an eccentric comedian leading the so-called "Demo for All", insists the protest is pro-marriage rather than anti-gay and has banned all but its approved banners saying a child needs a father and a mother to develop properly.
Meanwhile, four women from women's rights group Femen were arrested in St Peter’s Square today after a topless protest against the Vatican’s opposition to gay marriage. Police quickly took the women away, and the pope appeared not to have been disturbed as he delivered his traditional prayer from his studio window overlooking the piazza. On their bare backs, the women had painted slogans “In Gay We Trust,” and “Shut Up.” One of them, Inna Shevchenko, said: “Today we are here to protest against homophobia.”
Same-sex nuptials are legal in 11 countries including Belgium, Portugal, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Norway and South Africa, as well as nine US states and Washington DC.
Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, head of the Catholic Church in France, spearheaded the opposition with a critical sermon in August. Other faith leaders - Muslim, Jewish, Protestant and Orthodox Christian - also spoke out.
They struck a chord with voters by stressing problems for children that they saw emerging from same-sex marriage rather than using purely religious arguments against it or letting the government shape the issue of one only of equal rights for gays. Support for gay nuptials has slipped about 10 points to under 55 per cent and fewer than half the French now want gays to win adoption rights.
Under this pressure, legislators dropped a plan to also allow lesbians access to artificial insemination, which is now limited to heterosexual couples with fertility problems.
Organisers insist they are not against gays and lesbians, but for traditional marriage. "We are marriagophile, not homophobe," said Ms Merle, author of a book entitled Confessions of a Trendy Catholic.
Most national faith leaders will not join the protest, but at least eight Catholic bishops have said they would march. "I'm happy many Catholics will be mobilised, but this is not a church demonstration against the government," said Cardinal Vingt-Trois, who plans to go meet marchers but not join them.
Opposition leader Jean-Francois Cope and other conservatives, as well as leaders from the far-right National Front, will march as private citizens without political banners.
Civitas, a far-right Catholic group whose protests have been openly anti-gay, plans a rival march that will run parallel to one of the "Demo for All" columns. Organisers say they will have about 10,000 volunteer marshals to keep order.