In a country known for its secularism, hundreds of thousands of people converged Sunday on the Eiffel Tower to protest the French president’s plan to legalize gay “marriage” and allow same-sex couples to adopt and conceive children.
The opposition to President François Hollande’s proposal highlights divisions among the secular-but-Catholic French, particularly between more traditional rural areas and urban regions. But while polls show the majority of French still support legalizing same-sex “marriage,” the backing tapers off when children come into play.
Demonstrators rallied at three points across Paris, and filled boulevards throughout the city as they walked three miles to the grounds of France’s most recognizable monument.
Paris police estimated the crowd at 340,000, making this demonstration against marriage, adoption, and assisted reproduction for same-sex couples one of the largest in Paris since an education protest in 1984.
”This law is going to lead to a change of civilization that we don't want,” said Philippe Javaloyes, a literature teacher who traveled by bus with 300 others from Franche Comte in the far east. "We have nothing against different ways of living, but we think that a child must grow up with a mother and a father."
Spearheaded by religious leaders, public opposition has chipped away at the popularity of Hollande's plan in recent months. Just since August, support for same-sex “marriage” dropped from as high as 65 percent to 52 percent, according to a survey released Sunday.
France has allowed civil unions since 1999, but gay and lesbian couples say the unions are not enough. Current law, they argue, has no provisions for adoption or assisted reproduction, which are at the center of the latest debate.
"They're talking about putting into national identity cards Parent 1, Parent 2, Parent 3, Parent 4," said Melissa Michel, a Franco-American mother of five who was among a group from the south of France on a train reserved specifically for the protest. “Mom, dad and the kids are going to be wiped off the map, and that's going to be bad for any country, any civilization.”
If the French parliament approves the plan, France would become the 12th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, and the biggest so far in terms of economic and diplomatic influence.
Harlem Desir, the leader of Hollande's Socialist Party, said the protest would not hinder the proposal's progress. The Socialists control Parliament, where the bill is expected to be introduced on Tuesday, with a vote following public debate at the end of January.