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France gay marriage bill draws ire

April 21, 2013

Opponents of France's proposed gay marriage law took to the streets of Paris in the thousands on Sunday in a final bid to block the legislation. The French parliament is expected to pass the bill into law on Tuesday.

Anti-gay marriage activists hold flags and a banner reading "Children are not commodities" as they take part in a demonstration against gay marriage in Paris. (Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Getty Images

Demonstrations against France's proposed gay marriage law, which would also legalize adoption by gay couples, reached fever pitch in Paris on Sunday. The French Parliament is expected to adopt the law on Tuesday, making France the 14th country to legalize same-sex marriage.

“[President Francois] Hollande, we don't want your law," shouted members of the crowd on Sunday.

Protest organizers said between 30,000 and 50,000 people took part in the demonstration in the Montparnasse area of Paris on Sunday. A rival protest in support of the legislation was also held on Sunday but gathered fewer participants.

Security on alert

Two thousand security officers were on hand to ensure the throngs remained peaceful after demonstrations earlier in the week led to a bit of violence.

Protests were held three nights running, from Wednesday to Friday, and some of the hard-core opponents clashed with police. More than 100 arrests were made throughout the week.

Human rights groups have also reported a worrying rise in verbal and physical assaults against homosexuals in France.

France's Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who was on hand Sunday to help police, warned organizers last week that far-right extremists had infiltrated their ranks and aimed to provoke unrest.

Event organizers stressed the importance of avoiding violence.

"We want a peaceful demonstration, and we reject all groups that directly target homosexual people," said Frigide Barjot, spokeswoman for the "Manif pour Tous" (Demo for All) group which organized the event.

Strong feelings on both sides

President Hollande campaigned on the issue of legalizing gay marriage last year.

Opinion polls in France regularly show that most people support same-sex marriage, but they have also revealed that the majority are less comfortable with the idea of gay couples adopting.

Opponents turned out to have their final say on Sunday, lining the streets of Montparnasse. Many were swathed in the pink and blue banners of the Demo for All group.

Many among them carried signs promoting the rights of children.

Some opponents were driven by religious belief; others by the effects they fear such a law would have on French society.

Patrick Poydenot, a 58-year-old lawyer, for example, attended the demonstration with his son and told the Associated Press he believed the bill "is a threat to the social fabric." If it passes, he said, "a fundamental rule of society will disappear."

Supporters of the legislation have been less vocal than opponents, but they have also held large rallies in the run up to Tuesday’s vote.

The bill is expected to be approved by both houses of parliament on Tuesday, following its second reading. Both houses already approved the bill in its first reading.

tm/slk (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)