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Gay Marriage Approval Doesn’t Quell Protests in France

Anti-same sex marriage activists protest a few hours after the French Parliament adopted a gay marriage law on April 23 in Paris. Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images.

France became the 14th nation to legalize same-sex marriage Tuesday, after their Socialist-dominated lower house of parliament approved a bill that would allow homosexual couples to marry and adopt children. But the move has not stopped its determined opponents.

Following the Assembly vote, a bulked up police presence, including riot police, used tear gas to quell protestors throwing glass bottles.

While passage of the law, dubbed “Marriage for Everyone,” is a victory for President Francois Hollande and the Socialist Party platform on which he campaigned, the ad hoc opposition movement, “Manif pour tous,” or “Protest for Everyone,” isn’t accepting defeat. In fact, its opposition seemed to have generated greater fervor as the bill inched closer to ratification last spring.

The public face of “manif pour tous” appears to represent France’s divergent cultural and legal responses to homosexuality. Retired comedienne Frigide Barjot, a fixture of Parisian nightlife known to mingle in all sorts of crowds (and whose lipstick matches the hot pink of the movement’s official color), is a staunch conservative and one of the leading defenders of what’s viewed as the traditional French family unit.

France has had civil unions since 1999, and they are just as popular among heterosexual couples spurning marriage. But these civil solidarity pacts do not allow for adoption. Between 50 percent and 60 percent of French citizens support same-sex marriage, according to recent public opinion polls, but only 53 percent approve of same-sex couples adopting.

French police estimated that 45,000 people turned out in Paris Sunday to protest the same-sex marriage bill, while supporters numbered about 3,500.

There were mass demonstrations leading up to the vote, including 300,000 protestors marching on the Arc de Triomphe last month.

Earlier in April, gay bars in the provinces were attacked, while protesters in Paris crashed through barricades on the Champs-Elysées. On Monday, the National Assembly president received a letter containing gunpowder and a threat of war signed by unknown “social forces of order.”

Meanwhile, the viral image of a bruised face, belonging to a Parisian man who claims to have been beaten because of his sexuality, has become a rallying point for defenders of the bill and prompting the bill’s political opponents to condemn the violence.

The legal possibility of a same-sex couple rearing a child is at the root of much of the public discomfort, with protesters’ slogans reading, “a child, it’s a father and a mother.”

The French daily newspaper Le Monde solicited testimonies from protesters. Pierre, a 43-year-old Parisian socialist, explained that he’s not homophobic, he just fears for the welfare of children raised in same-sex couples.

Opponents of the legislation included Roman Catholic, Muslim and Jewish leaders, along with France’s conservative parties: the more mainstream Union for a Popular Movement, and the right-wing National Front. Even within Socialist party ranks, some leaders cited the same concerns about adoption.

Hollande, of the Socialist party, made a political calculation to campaign on same-sex marriage in 2012, said Bruno Perreau, who researches gender, sexuality and citizenship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and has written a book about adoption in France.

But even the same-sex marriage movement sanctioned by the Socialist government, and its mantra of “marriage for everyone,” does not acknowledge same-sex marriage in as visible a way as within the United States, Perreau said. Hollande would never be able to talk about “gay brothers and sisters” the way President Barack Obama did in his 2013 State of the Union address, he added.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, opponents of same-sex marriage already were planning a May 5 demonstration outside the Elysee Palace and another on May 26 for Mother’s Day in “defense of the family”. After the vote, Barjot suggested that the movement may draft candidates for the 2014 municipal elections.

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