, PARIS, Jan 14 – France’s ruling Socialists refused to back down Monday, a day after hundreds of thousands marched against plans to legalise gay marriage and adoption, and as opposition politicians stepped up calls for a referendum on the issue.
Despite the massive turn-out in Paris — 800,000 according to organisers, 340,000 according to police — a statement from President Francois Hollande’s Elysee Palace after the rally made it clear he would press ahead with the reforms.
The government plans to put the proposed legislation to parliament on January 29.
“This is a bill that strictly takes nothing away from anyone, which does not do away with the words ‘father’ and ‘mother’…,” Justice Minister Christiane Taubira told French television channel TF1 Sunday.
Once again, she ruled out a referendum on the issue, which she argued would in any case be unconstitutional.
But Christian Jacob, head of the centre-right opposition UMP party’s parliamentary group, insisted a referendum was perfectly feasible.
“The President of the Republic can at any time decide to submit a question to referendum: I don’t think there is any appeal against that,” he argued Sunday.
UMP leader Jean-Francois Cope meanwhile announced a special convention on the issue of the family for January 24, at which the issue of gay marriage would be discussed.
“This is an important test for Francois Hollande because you can see very clearly that there are millions of French people who are very concerned about this reform,” he said.
Cope was among those who took part in Sunday’s protest, along with many other senior UMP figures.
Opponents of the bill had travelled from all over France for a demonstration supported by the centre-right opposition, the Catholic Church and France’s five-million-strong Muslim community.
Neither the government’s apparent determination nor the grim winter weather appeared to dampen the spirits of the protestors. Giant marches converged near the Eiffel Tower having set off from three different starting points.
Many of the protestors were accompanied by children, some of whom brandished placards exclaiming: “Born of a man and a woman.”
Jacques Julien, 70, who had travelled from the Haute Loire region of central France, said he had voted for Hollande but disagreed with the Socialist president’s approach.
“A man and a woman, that is the basis of the family,” he said. “I’m saying out loud what many people on the left think privately.”
Despite months of well-attended protests however, opinion polls have shown consistently that most voters support the right of homosexual couples to marry, while a narrower majority favour granting them adoption rights.
Monday’s newspapers acknowledged the strength of the protest, even if they differed on how effective it would be.
“The Tidal Wave”, read the headline on the front-page lead in the conservative daily Le Figaro. Describing Sunday’s protest as “the biggest demonstration in Paris for 30 years” it expressed satisfaction that the right seemed to be rallying behind the call for a referendum on the issue.
Other dailies however, including Le Parisien and the freesheet 20 Minutes, pointed out that however impressive the rally, the government showed no sign of flinching.