Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Paris and Lyon Sunday to protest against France’s legalization of gay marriage and defend their interpretation of traditional family values, which brought together conservatives from across France.
Ahead of the protest, some 1,500 police officers were deployed in Paris and 600 in the central city of Lyon, according to Reuters.
The Interior minister, Manuel Valls, warned that any violence towards the police would be dealt with severely.
RT’s Peter Oliver reported from Paris that the protests are the latest in a wave of unrest which has been spreading though France.
“The campaigners say they are marching in defense of traditional family values. They say they are against proposed changes to the law that would make homosexual marriage legal and against alternative ways for homosexual couples to have children either through IVF or adoption,” Oliver said.
The demonstrations have been coordinated by the organization ‘Manif Pour Tous’, which translates as ‘Protest for Everyone’. The organization led efforts to stop the legalization of same sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples in France last year.
‘Manif Pour Tous’ has already highlighted two issues, which it hopes to defeat in the future, namely the questions of medically assisted procreation (MAP) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) for gay and lesbian couples.
The group’s leader, Ludovine de la Rochere, said that the protests were designed to “warn the government as early as possible of our opposition to offering MAP to female couples and of IVF because a child needs a father and a mother.”
The French government has dismissed speculation that it plans to increase access to medically assisted procreation and surrogacy for gay couples.
There has also been anger among conservatives in France of what is known as an “equality ABC “ program in primary schools, where rumors are spreading that young children are to be taught gender theory.
The rumors spiralled out of hand to the point that some French newspapers were reporting that school children would be taught how to masturbate and to reject their own sexual identity. The rumors, according to AFP, show the feverish level to which Catholic right wing groups will go to, to whip up public support.
But the more moderate side to the protest was compared by Valls to the Republican Tea Party movement in the US, “we are witnessing the constitution of a Tea Party a la Francaise,” he said in an interview with the newspaper Le Journal Dimanche.
He added that the French moderate right “has a duty to distance itself from movements that refuse to accept the democratic decisions of parliament.”
Geoffroy Didier, the deputy secretary general of the opposition center-right UMP, blamed the government for creating the crisis and accused them of “pulling the pins on social grenades”.
“More and more of our compatriots indeed want to preserve their economic, social and societal model. I wouldn’t want to find myself alongside a minority whose positions are dubious or even quite problematic,” he told RCJ radio.
Francoise Hollande signed the controversial marriage bill into law in May last year making France the 14th country in the world to allow gay marriage.
The legislation was opposed by many people in France, although opinion polls at the time showed that 55-60 percent of French people supported gay marriage.The frequent protects against the law were conflated by other anti-government grievances coming from the right.
Robert Harneis, a journalist and author specializing in French society, told RT that despite France’s reputation as a country of liberal values, about one third of the population believe in the traditional family and will not back down on this issue and it is this part of society that is driving the protests.
“About one third of the population feels very strongly about this, they will not let go on this subject and the more the government pushes it, the more they will push back. In the background there is the new Pope, which is inspiring them to try harder,” said Harneis.
There has also been general dissatisfaction towards the president Francoise Hollande. Last week several thousand people marched through Paris in a “Day of Anger” against Hollande’s socialist led government. Around 17,000 people took part in the demonstration. Violence broke out. Nineteen policemen were injured and 226 people detained in the clashes.
Hollande, who was elected in 2012, is the most unpopular French president in modern times. In the run-up to European elections in the spring the far-right Front National is rising in popularity and is expected to command as much of the vote as Hollande’s socialists.