BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — As François Hollande's government prepares for a Jan 29 parliamentary debate over its gay marriage bill, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Paris yet again to register their opposition to the measure, which has been subject to previous demonstrations in a number of French cities.
According to the BBC, three big marches joined at the Champs de Mars, near the Eiffel Tower. While organizers of the protest action, dubbed Demo for All, estimate that 800,000 marchers showed up, police say the turnout was closer to the 340,000 mark.
Opposition to gay marriage has been led predominantly by the Catholic Church and the political right, but leaders of almost all the major faiths in France have publicly opposed the bill, Reuters has reported.
"This is an important test for François Hollande because you can see very clearly that there are millions of French people who are very concerned about this reform," Jean-François Copé, of the main centre-right opposition party UMP, told protesters.
The mayor of Marseille says the proposed law would "destroy the family" and the government should "at least hold a referendum." Approximately 2,000 mayors have signed a petition asking that they be exempt from officiating at gay marriages should the government's measure pass.
"The president must listen to us. He must put this law on hold," Gay Star News quotes Parisian socialite and celebrity Virginie Tellenne, known by the stage name "Frigide Barjot," as saying.
Ruling Socialist Party leader Harlem Désir acknowledges the marchers' protected right to protest but says Socialists are "determined to give the legal right to marry and adopt to all those who love each other," Gay Star News says. "This is the first time in decades in our country that the right and the extreme right are coming into the streets together to deny new rights to the French."
While Hollande reportedly told Catholic, Orthodox Jewish and Islamic leaders in a recent meeting that he intends to proceed with plans to legalize gay marriage, he did agree to pull an amendment legalizing medically assisted procreation for same-sex couples in a bid to minimize opposition to the bill, Radio France reported earlier this month.
Radio France noted that Education Minister Vincent Peillon had called for “the greatest vigilance” against homophobic outbursts after Catholic education chief Eric de Labarre suggested that religious schools might organize debates on the question.
There are about two million pupils in private schools in France, with many of those schools Catholic.
Gay marriage supporters are expected to stage their own demonstration Jan 27, two days before parliamentarians are due to debate the bill.
Polls indicate that most French people support gay marriage, and the government enjoys a "comfortable majority" in parliament to ensure the bill passes, Reuters notes.
Meanwhile, as the Paris protest unfolded, four activists from the feminist group Femen staged their own protest in St Peter's Square in the Vatican to support gay rights, BBC notes. The four appeared topless while the pope recited the Angelus prayer; one was attacked by an umbrella-wielding worshipper.
Image: Gay Star News