Thomas Samson / AFP - Getty Images
Protesters converged on Paris from all over France to protest same-sex marriage, which is supported by President Francois Hollande.
PARIS - Several hundred thousand people converged at the Eiffel Tower in Paris Sunday to protest President Francois Hollande's bill to legalize same-sex marriage by June.
Protesters waved pink and blue flags showing a father, mother and two children. Many had taken long train and bus rides from outside Paris.
Hollande has pledged to push through a same-sex marriage law with his Socialist party’s parliamentary majority, but his opponents have dented public support and forced deputies to put off a plan to allow lesbian couples access to artificial insemination.
Same-sex marriage is recognized in 11 countries including Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Norway and South Africa. In the U.S., it is legal in nine states and in Washington, D.C.
Champ de Mars, the long park between the Eiffel Tower and the Ecole Militaire, was packed Sunday, with organizers claiming 800,000 protesters, but police more conservatively estimating 340,000 – a large turnout even in France, where protests are a way of life.
"Nobody expected this two or three months ago," said Frigide Barjot, a flamboyant comedian leading the demonstration. At the rally, she read aloud a letter to Hollande asking him to withdraw the bill and hold a public debate on the issue.
Strongly supported by the Catholic Church, opponents of same-sex marriage have mobilized practicing Catholics, members of the extreme far-right Front National party, some Muslims, evangelicals and even a few openly gay people.
They argue that same-sex marriage would cause psychological and social harm to children, which they believe should trump the desire for equal rights for gay adults.
Organizers insist they do not oppose gays and lesbians but rather support what they say are the rights of children to have a father and a mother. Slogans on the posters and banners read, "Marriagophile, not homophobe," "All born of a father and mother" and "Paternity, maternity, equality."
"The French are tolerant, but they are deeply attached to the family and the defense of children," said Daniel Liechti, vice-president of the National Council of French Evangelicals, which urged its members to join the march.
Their efforts appear to have had an impact. Surveys indicate that popular support for gay marriage in France has slipped about 10 points to less than 55 percent since opponents started speaking out. Fewer than half of those polled recently favored giving gay couples adoption rights.
Under this pressure, French legislators dropped a plan that would allow lesbian couples access to artificial insemination.
Hollande's office, recognizing the “substantial” turnout Sunday, said it will not be swayed and that it will continue to push for a law recognizing same-sex marriage.
More world stories from NBC News:
- 150 years old and still running late: London Tube reaches landmark
- Family escapes 'tornadoes of fire' by clinging to jetty for 3 hours
- Video: How happy is the only country to track happiness?
Copyright 2013 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.