Thousands of protesters stormed the streets of Paris on Sunday over government plans to give gay couples in France the right to marry and adopt children.
Three huge marches have centered on the Champs de Mars, next to the Eiffel Tower.
France’s Socialist government led by Francois Hollande plans to change the county’s existing marrige law this year.
But the demonstrators — backed by France’s Catholic Church who have declared gay marriage as against “human nature,” the right-wing opposition, and Protestant, Muslim, and Jewish clerics — believe such a move will undermine French society.
Opposition to the government plans to allow gay marriage have been raging for some time.
According to RFI, a French news agency, back in November 2012, French Catholic leader André Vingt-Trois told an annual meeting of the country’s bishops that:
“A vision of the human being that does not recognise sexual differences would be a sham that would shake the foundations of our society.”
Protest organizers have said numbers at the march today totaled 800,000 but police told French media the figure was closer to 120,000. Many of those attending have journeyed into Paris from outlying towns and villages by train and bus.
BBC News reports that some of the protesters are carrying placards that read, “We don’t want your law, Francois” and “Don’t touch my civil code.”
Dubbed the “Demo for all,” the Paris protest is being led on the ground by a comedian known as Frigide Barjot. He told French television reporters that gay marriage “makes no sense” because a child should was naturally born to a man and a woman.
Although France allows civil unions between same-sex couples, Hollande pledged to extend marriage rights to all as part of his presidential campaign.
Center-right UMP President Jean-Francois Cope said the demonstrations showed there were “clearly millions of French people who are probably concerned by this reform”.
The far-right National Front is also opposed to the change but its controversial leader Marine Le Pen stayed away from the march today.
A poll of almost 1,000 people published by Le Nouvel Observateur newspaper at the weekend found that 56 percent of the French back gay marriage, while 50 percent were against same-sex adoption.
Despite the support of the Church and political right, organizers of the Paris protests are said to be keen to stress their position is not based on homophobia, political or religious concerns, said BCC Paris correspondent Hugh Schofield.
Meanwhile, LiveLeak reports that while marchers converged in Paris’ center, over in Italy four activists staged their own protest in St Peter’s Square outside the Vatican in support of gay rights.
The four Ukrainians from the feminist group Femen stripped off in St Peter’s Square just as Pope Benedict XVI recited his his traditional weekly Angelus prayer.
The topless women had “Shut Up!” written on their fronts and “In Gay We Trust” on their backs. One of the women was attacked with an umbrella by a worshipper.
Several Italian and Vatican police officers quickly rounded up the four women and escorted them away from square.
The Femen women’s group have been demonstrating — often topless — for women’s rights, pro-democracy, and anti-corruption protests across Russia, Ukraine and Britain since 2010.