Hundreds of thousands gathered Sunday in Paris to defend marriage, the union of one man and one woman, and of children's right to have a father and a mother: The protest brought 300,000 according to the police, 500,000 according to the French newspaper La Croix.

They arrived by bus, car and train and marched through the streets of Paris in protest against President François Hollande's law that proposes to open the institution of marriage to all sorts of unions, and to allow the adoption of children by homosexual couples. The protests began in three points of Paris; it paralyzed traffic and closed metro stations for hours.

The French president's proposal has become increasingly unpopular in France and fell by 15% in public opinion over six months. France is divided but opposition to same-sex "marriage" is gaining ground: around 50% of French people favor equating homosexual unions with marriage, as opposed to 65% who supported it in August, according to the Associated Press. 

Antoine Renard, president of the Associations of French Catholic Families and of the European Federation of Catholic Families' Associations, lamented the lack of will to listen to the civil society: "I think our country needs to keep itself essentially united to overcome the consequences of the economic and social crisis, but instead of making an effort for unity, our government fosters an issue that is clearly dividing our people. At the beginning of his presidential mandate, Hollande committed himself to justice and to young people."

"On behalf of the families our organization represents, I appeal firmly to President Hollande to withdraw the proposed law in the name of justice for all, especially for young people," stressed Renard who also explained that "children are subjects with rights, and their rights are excluded in the present proposal, a proposal that, on the contrary, inverts the hierarchy of rights: instead of taking into account the higher interest of the child, this project [of Hollande] presents a 'right to a child.'"

On the eve of the protest, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois of Paris analyzed the situation in France in statements on Notre Dame Radio: The Manif pour tous, he said, is not a "religious phenomenon opposed to the government" but something larger: "We are before an opinion that wants to be made known, to make the government listen."

"It's not the Church against government"

In his statements, the French cardinal affirmed: "I hope that Catholics will behave as Catholics, that they exercise their citizen's right to express their opinion, and that they do so collectively through a protest. This draft law merits a more serene and better organized debate. This has not been the government response, and we have found it necessary to seek other ways to express points of view. This protest is one of the means to express the profound disagreement of a certain number of French people in regard to this draft law. I rejoice that we are in a Republic in which there is the faculty and the freedom to express one's opinions, within, of course, democratic respect, that is, without aggressiveness, without hatred and without violent manifestation, of course, or of contempt toward anyone."

In regard to the possibility that there were bishops among the protesters and his own presence, the cardinal pointed out: "I still don't know how, but I'll do something. What was very clear about what we said at the end of our meeting with the President of the Republic -- we, that is the representatives of the different religions -- is that we're not before a religious phenomenon opposed to the government. We are before an opinion that has something to make known, and that religions weren't the instigators or organizers of this protest, in which members of our different religions take part according to their conviction and according to the use they make of the means of expression. I am happy to know that many Catholics have mobilized but this isn't a protest of the Church against the government."

It was learned a few days ago that an amendment on medically assisted procreation was withdrawn from the draft law. In this connection, Cardinal Vingt-Trois said: "One must not allow oneself to be manipulated by the effects of the announcement. [...] If the Socialist Party has given up presenting this amendment, it's not by force that it gives it up totally but because it thinks it can have it approved better another way, as the issue remains intact. That the amendment was withdrawn does not mean that the transformation of marriage has also been abandoned."

Global protests

Numerous French people who reside in Rome protested before the French Embassy "in defense of the natural family made up of one man and one woman, of natural filiation and of the child's right to be raised by a father and a mother."

A group of French parents calling themselves "La Manif Pour Tous Italie" -- independent, a-political and a-confessional -- called a protest simultaneously with the great manifestation of Paris.

French people of Naples, Florence and Milan took part. At the end of the event, they handed a letter addressed to the president of the French Republic requesting the withdrawal of the draft law.