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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 23, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 47
Catholics spearhead opposition to French marriage law
Section One
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Catholics spearhead opposition to French marriage law

Anti-equality marches held in cities across nation

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Tens of thousands of French conservatives, organized by Roman Catholic officials, marched on November 17 to protest plans by the Socialist government of President François Hollande to legalize same-sex marriage.

Police estimated that some 70,000 people marched in several French cities. March organizers claimed 200,000.

Hollande, who made marriage equality a central part of his election platform, introduced his new marriage law at a cabinet meeting November 7. Hollande's prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, originally intended to unveil the law on October 31, but was forced to delay the bill because of mounting opposition from conservative forces.

The National Assembly, France's parliament, will begin debate on the proposed law in January, with a vote expected in mid-2013. It would allow same-sex couples the right to marry and to adopt children, but not to use assisted procreation methods.

France's senior Catholic prelate, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois of Paris, has criticized the Hollande government for forging ahead with plans for marriage equality at a time when the country faces urgent economic concerns.

POPE URGES INVOLVEMENT
Pope Benedict XVI told French bishops visiting him at the Vatican on November 17 they should not be 'afraid' of intervening in politics.

'In the important debates about society, the voice of the church must make itself heard relentlessly and with determination,' he said.

Lyon Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who has said marriage was defined by God at the very beginning of the Bible, joined protesters in that city.

'I'm here like everyone else, like the Protestants, the Catholics, the Muslims, the philosophers - it's a message to politicians so that a debate is organized on such a fundamental issue,' he said.

The archbishop of Toulouse, Robert Le Gall, also joined marchers there.

INFIGHTING ON RIGHT
While Catholic-led demonstrators took to the streets, the right-wing opposition party UMP imploded after a tight election for a new party leader to succeed defeated French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Sarkozy protégé Jean-François Copé - considered the hard-right candidate - defeated former Prime Minister François Fillon on November 18, in a race marked by mutual charges of ballot rigging and corruption. Both candidates have pledged to repeal Hollande's marriage law if it passes, but only Cope endorsed the anti-equality demonstrations.

Polls still show a majority of French voters favor marriage equality, although the most recent polls suggest that the margin is narrowing as equality opponents take the offensive. A recent IFOP poll also shows that less than half of French voters now favor adoption rights for same-sex couples.

More than 1,000 mayors have signed a petition against the proposed changes, and the conservative opposition claims there have been protests in 75 towns and cities.

Hollande faces doubts about the proposed law even within his own party, and many observers say that the government's bill may require several amendments before it has a chance of passing the National Assembly.

SUPPORTERS LOSING PATIENCE
LGBT rights activists have been critical of the Socialist government's cautious progress toward full marriage equality.

'It's encouraging that the majority of the country backs Gay marriage,' the LGBT rights group ACT UP-Paris said in a statement. 'We've won this as a result of decades of fighting. But it also makes the trepidation and hesitation of the government even harder to believe, and this [is a] critical stage. Why do they lack the moral courage here?'

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