Marchers in Paris oppose extending gay rights

 

Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Paris yesterday in opposition to plans to give gay couples the right to marry and to adopt children.

In near-freezing conditions, columns of protesters, waving pink and blue flags showing a father, mother and two children, converged on the Eiffel Tower from different meeting points in the city.

Police said 340,000 people joined the marches, while organisers put the figure at one million, claiming the biggest turnout for any protest in France in 30 years.

France already allows civil unions between same-sex couples and president François Hollande made an election campaign pledge to extend their rights. He has a big enough majority in parliament to enact the law, but the debate has mobilised conservatives and become the most divisive issue of Mr Hollande’s term so far.

“Nobody expected this two or three months ago,” said Frigide Barjot, a comedian leading the “Demo for All” – the title is a play on the government’s branding of its initiative as “Marriage for All”. At the rally, she read out a letter to Mr Hollande asking him to withdraw the draft bill and hold an extended public debate on the issue.

Large coalition

Strongly backed by the Catholic hierarchy, Ms Barjot and groups working with her mobilised a large coalition that included Catholics and political conservatives as well as some Muslims, evangelicals and even homosexuals opposed to gay marriage.

The Élysée Palace said the turnout was “substantial” but would not change Mr Hollande’s determination to pass the reform.

Françoise Gaudin, a pensioner from Angers in western France who travelled to Paris with friends, said the marriage plan went to “the foundations of French society”.

“I’m Catholic, but I’m not here as a Catholic . . . Marriage is a man and a woman. It’s very important,” she said.

Jean-Marie Thomas, who said he had driven for 2½ hours to be at the protest, rejected the charge of homophobia made by some of the protest’s critics. “There are homosexuals in my family. On the contrary. I know that most homosexuals don’t want this. It’s ideological. They want to keep the French revolution going to the end – all the way to human nature.”

Two parents

The crowd included young and old, urban and rural. One young woman wore a cardboard hat bearing the slogan “Made by Mother and Father”. Beside her, another protester’s hat read “Zero mother = depressing.”

One of the most tweeted quotes of the day came from Bruno Gollnisch, a National Front politician, who said: “Gay people want children as pets.”

“It’s a fundamental question – a question that could change a lot,” said Pierre Bonelli, a 35-year-old from the city of Orléans. “The great majority here have the same political sensibility – more on the right than the left – but I’m also sure that it crosses the divide.”

Support for gay marriage here has slipped about 10 percentage points to under 55 per cent since opponents began to speak out, according to surveys.

Fewer than half of those polled recently wanted gays to win adoption rights. Under this pressure, legislators dropped a plan to allow lesbians access to artificial insemination.