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Thousands protest in Paris against gay marriage

Several hundred thousand gay marriage opponents have marched through the streets of Paris. It is the biggest demonstration to date against the policy proposed by President Francois Hollande.

Demonstrators from across Europe converged on the Eiffel Tower in Paris Sunday to protest against the French government's plans to legalize gay marriage by June.

Organizers claimed 800,000 people were in attendance for the rally, while police put the number at 340,000.

Hollande promised during his campaign last year to give full marriage rights to same-sex couples. But the "marriage for all" bill has been met with stronger-than-expected opposition, especially in rural areas.

Activists organized five high-speed trains and 900 buses to bring people from provincial towns into the capital. They join a mixed group of protesters, backed by the Catholic hierarchy, already in the city, including church-going families, political conservatives, Muslims, evangelicals and even homosexuals opposed to gay marriage.

Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, a Catholic leader who launched the opposition with a critical sermon in August, was in attendance and expressed his "encouragement that Christians express what they think."

Protest organizers have said they are not against gays and lesbians, but for traditional marriage. They say they only allowed approved posters and banners to be displayed, with slogans that include "marriageophile, not homophobe," "testicles don't have eggs," "all born of a father and mother" and "paternity, maternity, and quality."

Heated issue

The president has angered same-sex marriage opponents by avoiding public debate on the reform, which Justice Minister Christiane Taubira described as "a change in civilization," and wavering about some of its details.

Over 2,000 mayors have signed a petition asking to be exempted from officiating at gay weddings if, as expected, the legislation passes.

Same-sex marriage is legal in 11 countries, including Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Norway and South Africa, as well as nine US states and the District of Columbia.

Support for gay marriage in France has fallen about 10 points to under 55 percent since the opposition began to speak out, according to surveys, and less than half of those polled recently want gays to win adoption rights.

Legislators under pressure recently dropped a plan to also allow lesbians access to artificial insemination.

dr/rc (dpa, Reuters)