Anti-Gay-Marriage Protest Becomes Catch-All for French Gloom

An anti-gay-marriage protest in Paris yesterday turned into a lightning rod for anger over President Francois Hollande’s economic policies.

Thousands of demonstrators -- 1.4 million according to the organizers, 300,000 according to the police -- marched down the French capital’s boulevards, as police used tear gas to disperse protestors who tried to break through barriers to get onto the Champs-Elysees, Paris’s best-known avenue.

Although the demonstration was called to protest proposed “marriage-for-all” legislation that would give same-sex partnerships equal status with heterosexual unions and allow gay people to adopt children, signs carried by demonstrators showed that anger on the streets is widening to other issues.

“We want jobs rather than stupid laws,” one banner read.

France is suffering from its most severe economic contraction since 2009, forcing Hollande to abandon his 2013 deficit target and find additional savings to appease the nation’s European partners. Unemployment has surged to a 13-year high of 10.6 percent as PSA Peugeot-Citroen SA and other manufacturers eliminate tens of thousands of jobs.

Hollande has become the most unpopular French leader since 1981, a TNS-Sofres poll showed. More than two-thirds of the French and 44 percent of those who voted for him in the second, decisive round of the May election say they’re disappointed, according to a March 3 BVA poll in Le Parisien.

Gay Marriage

The demonstrations were the second such show of force this year by people opposed to the marriage-for-all bill. France’s National Assembly voted in favor of the law Feb. 12, with a debate in the upper house, or Senate, slated to start April 2.

The proposal has divided France, a predominantly Catholic country. Opinion polls show that a majority of voters favor giving same-sex couples the right to marry, though they oppose giving such couples rights to adoption or medically assisted procreation.

Pollster BVA found that 58 percent of voters favor gay marriage, while 53 percent oppose giving gay couples the right to adopt, according to a survey published in January. CSA, another polling company, found that 52 percent favor gay marriage and the same proportion oppose adoption by same-sex couples.

Yesterday’s protest differed from anti-gay-marriage demonstrations Jan. 13 due to a much higher number of placards with political and economic slogans, French daily Liberation reported today.

“It’s the entire policy platform of the government that needs to be criticized,” the newspaper quoted opposition lawmaker Henri Guaino as saying.

Some demonstrators called for Hollande to resign, citing France’s deteriorating economy.

“The protestors’ slogans have changed,” Le Parisien newspaper said. “They are no longer limited to the subject of marriage but are encroaching on economic matters.”