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Protesters take to Paris streets

Thousands demonstrate against gay marriage

Thousands of demonstrators gather on the Champ de Mars near the Eiffel Tower in Paris to protest France’s planned legalisation of same-sex marriage. Photo: Reuters

Thousands of demonstrators gather on the Champ de Mars near the Eiffel Tower in Paris to protest France’s planned legalisation of same-sex marriage. Photo: Reuters

Three separate columns of protesters filed through the French capital yesterday 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 when the separate columns met there in the late afternoon.

Organisers reserved five high-speed trains and 900 buses to bring protesters from provincial towns to the capital, some before dawn, to join Parisians and display the extent of the opposition that has built up in recent weeks.

“Nobody expected this two or three months ago,” said Frigide Barjot, a flamboyant comedian leading the “Demo for All” she described as “multicultural, multireligious and multisexual”.

Strongly backed by the Catholic hierarchy, lay activists have mobilised a coalition of church-going families, political conservatives, Muslims, evan­gelicals and even homosexuals opposed to gay marriage.

“We want this draft law to be withdrawn,” Patricia Soullier, a protest organiser, told BFM-TV before boarding a Paris-bound train in Montpellier in the south of France.

Hollande angered opponents of same-sex marriage by trying to avoid public debate on the reform, which Justice Minister Christiane Taubira described as “a change in civilisation”, and wavering about some of its details.

His clumsy handling of other promises, such as a 75 per cent tax on the rich that was ruled unconstitutional, and a faltering struggle against rising unemployment have dented his popularity in recent opinion polls.

Same-sex weddings are legal in 11 countries including Belgium, Portugal, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Norway and South Africa, as well as nine US states and Washington D.C.

More than 1,000 Catholic clerics in Britain issued a protest letter on Saturday against plans to legalise gay marriage there.

In Italy, the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano yesterday condemned a court ruling against a father who sought custody of his son because the mother now lives with a lesbian partner.

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.

“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”.

Leaders of most faiths in France have spoken out, stressing problems for children that they saw emerging from same-sex marriage rather than addressing the argument among supporters that it was simply an issue of equal rights for gay adults.

“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.

Support for gay marriage in France has slipped by about 10 percentage points to under 55 per cent 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.

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