PARIS — A march in Paris Jan. 13 against proposed marriage and adoption legislation for same-sex couples was the largest public demonstration France has witnessed since then-President Francois Mitterand tried to make all schools public in 1984, observers say.
Estimates vary on the size of the crowd, with police saying 340,000 attended the march that ended at the Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower. The organizers, however, put the figure at over a million.
Gen. Bruno Dary, a former military governor of Paris with technical expertise in estimating crowd flows, took issue with the police estimate, saying about 800,000 demonstrators took part, according to Le Figaro newspaper.
The protesters, in what were effectively three separate marches in the city, included not only faith and pro-family groups and people of all ages and backgrounds, but also atheists and homosexuals.
The demonstration, called a “Demo for All,” was held to protest against a bill titled “Marriage for All,” which would allow same-sex "marriage" and adoption by homosexual couples, that is being introduced by the administration of President Francois Hollande. Media coverage of the march was extensive in France, with television news bulletins and the press giving it plenty of attention, although much of it was eclipsed by the French military intervention in Mali.
Some even saw the Mali operation as a cynical attempt by Hollande to take public attention away from the issue in a bid to smooth its passage through the French parliament.
France’s Bishops Speak Out
“For many months, we have alerted the government and the public about the risk of a profound cleavage within French society posed by the bill allowing marriage and adoption for same-sex couples,” a Jan. 16 statement from the French bishops' conference said. “This cleavage is even more unfortunate as our country is experiencing a period of severe economic and social problems which should, on the contrary, persuade political leaders to unite the country.”
The bishops, headed by the archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, added that the “exceptional size of the manifestation [shows], if proof were needed, that this warning was well founded. In the three processions converging towards the Champ de Mars, people from all parts of France, young and old, families with children or alone, people of all opinions, of all religions or no religion marched with conviction, in good humor and were not aggressive towards anyone.”
A common feature, the bishops added, was the “recognition of the family, the children’s best interests and respect of parentage.”
The Catholic Church teaches that authentic marriage involves only one man and one woman. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution, despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures and spiritual attitudes” (1603).
In an address in June 2009, Pope Benedict XVI stated, “The different present forms of the dissolution of marriage, as well as free unions and ‘trial marriage,’ including the pseudo-marriage between persons of the same sex, are … contrary expressions of an anarchic freedom that appears erroneously as man’s authentic liberation.”
Eradicating ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’
The protesters were not all opposed to same-sex unions, however. “French people want homosexuals to be treated as equals, and most of us agree on that,” Berenice Girardeau, a Parisian resident, told the Register. “But if you want to give them the same rights, you have to modify the law, the Civil Code, and that’s what’s frightening people.”
Many French citizens, including homosexuals, are reluctant to have the terms “mother” and “father” eradicated from the statute books by the proposed legislation and have issues with same-sex adoption. They argue that artificial procreation and proxy parenting by same-sex couples is simply a way of treating children as consumer products.
“The rights of children trump the right to children,” said Jean Marc, a French mayor, who is also homosexual and lived with a man for 20 years. He said the homosexual-rights "LGBT" movement does not speak for him and that “as a society we should not be encouraging this; it’s not biologically natural.”
During a heated Jan. 16-17 debate in the National Assembly, the French parliament’s lower house, opponents of the bill pointed out that 150 references to “mother” and “father” in the Civil Code would have to be erased.
Philippe Gosselin of the center-right UMP party noted that, in personnel forms for SNCF, the state rail carrier, the terms “father” and “mother” had already been replaced by the label “Parents 1 and 2.”
“We want to stop this!” he declared.
Xavier Bongibault, a prominent atheist homosexual, is also opposed to the bill. “In France, marriage is not designed to protect the love between two people. French marriage is specifically designed to provide children with families,” he said in an interview, according to C-FAM. “[T]he most serious study done so far … demonstrates quite clearly that a child has trouble being raised by gay parents.”
Voice of Experience
Meanwhile, Jean-Dominique Bunel, a specialist in humanitarian law, told Le Figaro he “was raised by two women” and that he “suffered from the lack of a father, a daily presence, a character and a properly masculine example, some counterweight to the relationship of my mother to her lover. I was aware of it at a very early age. I lived that absence of a father, experienced it as an amputation.”
“As soon as I learned that the government was going to officialize marriage between two people of the same sex, I was thrown into disarray,” he explained. It would be “institutionalizing a situation that had scarred me considerably. In that there is an injustice that I can in no way allow.”
If the women who raised him had been married, Bunel added, “I would have jumped into the fray and would have brought a complaint before the French state and before the European Court of Human Rights for the violation of my right to a mom and a dad.”
One of the most prominent campaigners against the bill, who was also one of the chief organizers of the march, is “Frigide Barjot,” a famous Catholic comedian in France. “To make a child, you need a man and a woman,” Barjot said ahead of the march, adding that a same-sex couple becoming the legal parents of a child “is totally contrary to reality.”
But like many French citizens, she does not object to official status and legal protections for same-sex couples. “The problem is not homosexuality, but human filiation,” she argued, stressing children’s need to have legal affiliation and access to their biological parents.
Barjot and many other French citizens would prefer to see a referendum on the issue.
“A referendum would be the easiest and most sensible thing to do,” said Girardeau. “Let’s see what people think — this is a huge issue for us.”
But, so far, the Elysee Palace has ruled that out. The march expressed “a sensibility that must be respected,” a government spokesman said, “but it does not change the government’s desire to have a debate in parliament to allow passage of the law.”
The bill will be presented to France’s National Assembly on Jan. 29.
The expectation is that homosexual marriage will be separated from same-sex adoptions and surrogacy parenting, with such issues dealt with individually, but that same-sex "marriage" will definitely be passed by the parliament. Many same-sex couples in France already go abroad to countries where such legislation already exists, such as Belgium or Spain.
Such an outcome would not be acceptable, France’s Catholic hierarchy has stressed. In their statement, the French bishops called on politicians to offer policy solutions and formulations during the parliamentary debate “that are respectful of the heterosexual nature of marriage, parentage and homosexuals.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
He filed this report from Paris.