Sunday, January 31, 1999 Published at 19:27 GMT
Protest at 'gay marriage' plans
Organisers gave a prominent place to young people on the march
By Stephen Jessel in Paris
In Paris tens of thousands of people have been taking part in a march to demonstrate their opposition to government plans to introduce a new status for unmarried couples, whether of different sexes or the same sex.
The protestors claim that the legislation opens the way to marriage for homosexuals and the right for same-sex couples to adopt children.
In any case, the march was well-organised and well-financed, enjoying the active, though discreet, support of the Roman Catholic church, which is strongly opposed to plans to extend to unmarried couples - heterosexual or homosexual - some of the rights and duties of married couples.
The protest also enjoyed the backing of Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders, all of whom fear that the institution of marriage is being undermined.
Backed by the right
At the political level, about half the members of parliament belonging to the mainstream conservative parties backed the protest, as did both versions of the far-right National Front.
The demonstrators had come from all over France and the organisers, sensitive to the charge that they are out-of-date reactionaries, gave a prominent place to the very large numbers of young people on the demonstration.
Techno-music blared from sound systems on trucks and American-style cheer leaders waved orange pom-poms.
Although the message was one of support for the conventional family, there were a number of overtly anti-homosexual slogans.
The legislation under attack has many hurdles to clear and cannot become law until the end of the year, at the earliest.