PARIS : Thousands of opponents of a gay marriage bill thronged the streets of Paris on Sunday in a last-ditch bid to block the legislation, under the watchful eye of police after recent violence.
The demonstration came after days of sometimes vicious protests and several homophobic assaults in France, as parliament prepares to vote on — and likely pass — the bill Tuesday, making France the 14th country to legalise same-sex marriage.
The recent unrest has sparked concern over Sunday s mass demonstration — particularly as supporters of the legislation are also poised to begin a rival protest in Paris. Both organisers and security forces are on high alert.
Many parents and their children were part of the procession, holding French flags and pink and blue banners, the colour of the “Manif pour tous” (Demo for All) group — the spearhead of the movement against the bill, which would also legalise adoption by gay couples.
“We ve been to all the protests,” said a 32-year-old mother who only gave her first name Camille, as she breast-fed her four-month-old son.
“We re here for children s rights. We don t want the state to be complicit in a child being deprived of a father or a mother,” she said.
France s Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who was on site Sunday to support police forces, warned organisers last week that far-right extremists had infiltrated the opposition movement and were intent on provoking unrest.
“We want a peaceful demonstration and we reject all groups that directly target homosexual people,” said Frigide Barjot, spokeswoman for the “Manif pour Tous” group.
She said she had called on “professional security services” to help out, adding that any excesses would be reported to specially designated people along the way, who would in turn report them to police.
And even before the start of the protest, one man carrying six canisters of teargas spotted by organisers was detained by police.
Tension over the imminent adoption of the law, which is going through a second reading in the lower house after already being approved in the French parliament s upper and lower houses, reached breaking point last week.
In Paris, opponents marched for three nights in a row from Wednesday to Friday, and a hard-core of activists, some wearing masks, clashed with police, who made more than 100 arrests during the week.
Two journalists were attacked during Wednesday s march, and cars along the route were vandalised.
In parliament s lower house, the National Assembly, a final debate on the legislation was marred by unprecedented scuffles between deputies.
Rights groups have also reported a rise in verbal and physical assaults against homosexuals, and two gay bars came under attack last week in different cities.
Opponents have accused the government of rushing the bill through its final legislative stages, and say President Francois Hollande has not listened to dissenting voices.
Opinion polls regularly show that while most French people support same-sex marriage, a majority oppose adoption by gay couples.
“A mayor to marry one mother and one father, not a pair of mothers nor a pair of fathers”, “A child is not a right” read some of the banners seen in Sunday s procession.
Organisers say the protest was expected to include some 30,000 to 50,000 people, but numbers were not immediately confirmed.
While supporters of the legislation in France have been less vocal than opponents, they have also staged large-scale protests.
On Saturday, several hundred people marched in the northwestern city of Nantes to denounce what they said was a climate of fear created by a “fascist” wave of homophobia.
The bill is largely supported by the ruling Socialists, their allies in the Green Party and the Communists, and opposed by the main opposition UMP and other right-wing and centre-right parties.
It has proved hugely divisive in a country that is officially secular but predominantly Catholic. (AFP)