PARIS Supporters of same-sex marriage and adoption marched through Paris on Sunday to back the French government's planned reform and counter unexpectedly strong opposition from conservative and religious groups.
Police said about 60,000 demonstrators turned out, fewer than the 100,000 who protested last month against the law due to be passed by mid-2013. Paris's gay mayor Bertrand Delanoe joined the march along with several other left-wing politicians.
Marching along to drumbeats and jazz music, the protesters waved rainbow flags and held up signs saying "liberty, equality, dignity" and "hate is not a family value." One sign announced "wedding gifts for gays will boost the economy."
Among their chants was "Oui, oui, oui" (yes, yes, yes) in support of same-sex marriage, adoption rights for gay couples and access to assisted procreation methods such as artificial insemination.
The Socialist government's bill would legalise gay marriage and adoption, but not assisted procreation. Left-wing deputies plan to add that option to the law, a step President Francois Hollande did not initially support but has now conceded.
One protester carried a sign urging Hollande's government to move faster. "We have the impression the politicians are less ready for this than citizens are," said Elise Cabanes from Paris.
OPPOSITION ENCOURAGED SUPPORTERS
Latest polls show that about 60 percent of the French support the legalisation of marriage for homosexuals, but only 46 percent think they should be able to adopt children.
Support for gay adoption has been slipping since opponents, led by France's main religions, launched a campaign attacking the reform with legal, anthropological and psychological arguments rather than citing their religious doctrines.
Arnaud Jacquimin, a Paris civil servant, carried a sign thanking leading opponents of the reform for helping to rally its supporters. "They united us," he said. "There would have been fewer people here today without their opposition."
With passage of the law assured thanks to the left-wing majority in parliament, France will next year become the 12th country to legalise same-sex marriage. It is already allowed in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Sweden.
France legalised gender-neutral civil unions in 1999 and almost as many are contracted now as traditional marriages.
But almost all of them are among heterosexuals, making it more a "marriage light" for them than the favoured option for gay couples that they were intended to be.
On Saturday, several thousand demonstrators joined marches for same-sex marriage in a dozen provincial cities. A handful of mayors and deputy mayors also rallied in Paris to demand the government withdraw the law.
Groups opposed to gay marriage, several of them close to the Roman Catholic Church, plan another large protest march in Paris on January 13. The government's bill is due to be introduced in parliament on January 29.
The issue of assisted procreation has split the governing Socialist Party, with some leaders urging deputies not to write it into the draft law.
It is divisive because allowing it could lead to pressure from gay men to legalise surrogate motherhood, which is illegal here and has little support in public opinion.
Some French lesbians who desire children now travel to neighbouring Belgium or Spain for artificial insemination.
(Reporting By Tom Heneghan; Editing by Stephen Powell)