In just two days, the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron managed to enrage the French right, extreme right and the lesbian, gay and transsexual community with comments that were unusually frank for him.
Polls indicate Mr Macron will come in second in the first round of the presidential election on April 23rd. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the extreme right wing Front National, is expected to win the first round, but be defeated in the May 7th run-off.
In an interview with l'Obs magazine, Mr Macron expressed sympathy for hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, many of them traditionalist Catholics, who had opposed the Taubira law that legalised same-sex marriage in 2013.
One of the "fundamental errors" of President Francois Hollande's term was "to ignore a part of the country which has good reasons to live in resentment and sad passions", Mr Macron told l'Obs. "That's what happened with 'marriage for all'; that France was humiliated".
Virginie Combe, spokeswoman for SOS Homophobia, accused Mr Macron of "going after voters" and said it was a "fundamental error" for him to discount the hatred shown by opponents of same-sex marriage.
Polls show Mr Macron is siphoning off significant support from Francois Fillon, the candidate for the right-wing Les Républicains who is mired in scandal over payments to family members for allegedly fake jobs.
The socialist party secretary general Jean-Christophe Cambadélis said he was “stunned to see Emmanuel Macron defend the anti-‘marriage for all’ campaign. By trying to be everywhere, one ends up being nowhere.”
The Homosexuality and Socialism association and Gaylib also condemned Mr Macon's statement.
Mr Macron defended himself, saying it had been a mistake to allow the debate on same-sex marriage to drag on, “profoundly dividing society and giving the impression to one side that it had not been heard”.
Mr Macron confirmed his support for same-sex marriage and medically assisted procreation for lesbians, though he opposes recourse to surrogate mothers by homosexual couples.
Mr Macron also tried to defuse the controversy raised by his assertion in an earlier interview with an Algerian television station that France had committed crimes against humanity in its 132-year colonisation of Algeria.
The front-page editorial of Le Figaro accused Mr Macron of "falsifying the history of colonisation for a few votes" from French citizens of Algerian origin.
Mr Macron told Le Figaro he didn't mean the French who lived in Algeria, or the army, committed crimes against humanity. "Only the French state was responsible."
France “is blocked by the sad passions of its history”, Mr Macron added. “It prevents us going forward.”
Meanwhile, Mr Fillon, the third-runner in polls, continues to encounter difficulty in campaigning. Demonstrators outside his rally in Tourcoing on Friday shouted “Fillon in prison!” The LR candidate said their behaviour “raises democratic questions”.
Three weeks ago, Mr Fillon promised to withdraw from the campaign if judges formally charged him in the fake jobs scandal. He told journalists this week that he would stay in the race no matter what.