France: Tens of thousands rally ahead of marriage equality vote

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators wore blue and pink to march on Paris in opposition to equal marriage today.

The marchers, estimated at 50,000, walked through Montparnasse, while thousands of counter-protesters showed their support for marriage equality legislation at a smaller gathering in Bastille Square.

Among the anti-equality protesters were the head of the Christian Democratic Party, Christine Boutin, and far-right leader Gilbert Collard, who marched together behind a banner.

Camille, a 32-year-old mother, told the AFP: “We’ve been to all the protests. 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.”

“We believe that this bill is a threat to the social fabric,” said 58-year-old lawyer, Patrick Poydenot, adding his belief that “a fundamental rule of society will disappear” if the bill passes.

Former National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen said the size and fervor of the opposition movement had been “exceptional”.

“It is normal that people demonstrate against a bill they oppose, but it’s a surprising phenomenon, including for people in power, to see that [the demonstrations] concern hundreds of thousands of people,” he said. “It’s quite exceptional.”

On Friday, the lower house of French National Assembly almost mirrored violent protests outside, around the issue of equal marriage, as MPs came to the end of the capped 25-hour debate around the bill which would allow equal marriage, and same sex couples the right to adopt.

Punches were reportedly thrown in the scuffle, which lasted several minutes, whilst ministers shouted “out”, “out”. One minister said he had never experienced such an incident in his 30 years in the lower house.

The final, and decisive vote on the bill is expected to take place on Tuesday 23 April, and if it passes the vote, it will go to the Constitutional Council, which will review its constitutionality. If it is passed by the council, it will be signed into law by President Francois Hollande before being published in the Official Journal of the French Republic. 

As the National Assembly hearing began four men were detained after they attacked a gay bar in Lille, injuring the manager and causing property damage.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, this week called for calm as violent protests marred the start of the National Assembly’s fast tracked final debate on the marriage equality bill.

President Hollande also condemned the “homophobic” violence in France, as well as Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who warned that the movement opposed to equal marriage was being infiltrated by far-right organisations.