* Organisers say 200,000 protestors in Paris; police say
* Pope Benedict tells French bishops church's voice must be
By Gérard Bon
PARIS, Nov 17 Tens of thousands of people,
joined by Catholic church leaders, marched in cities across
France on Saturday to protest against government plans to
legalise same-sex marriage.
Demonstrators, holding banners with slogans such as "don't
touch civil marriage", "all born from the union of a man and a
woman" and "one father + one mother for all children", took to
the streets in Paris, Lyon, Marseille and other major towns.
The organisation behind the protests, called "Demos for All"
in imitation of the "marriage for all" call of gay-marriage
campaigners, says the Socialist government's reforms, which
polls indicate have popular support, would threaten "major and
The organisers said 200,000 people demonstrated in the
French capital, compared with a police estimate of 70,000.
France's National Assembly is due to start examining the
proposed law allowing same-sex marriage in January, with a vote
expected in mid-2013. It would grant gay couples the right to
adopt children but not to use assisted procreation methods.
Recent polls show the majority of French people support gay
marriage, though not the right for homosexual couples to adopt.
France's top Catholic prelate, Paris Cardinal Andre
Vingt-Trois, earlier this month criticised the government for
forging ahead with the plans at a time when the country faced
urgent economic concerns.
Pope Benedict told French bishops visiting the Vatican on
Saturday not to be "afraid" of spreading Christian teachings.
"In the important debates about society, the voice of the
church must make itself heard relentlessly and with
determination," he said.
The Vatican pledged this month never to stop fighting
attempts to "erase" the privileged role of heterosexual
marriage, which it called "an achievement of civilisation".
Jean-Francois Cope, who is hoping to become leader of the
opposition centre-right UMP party in an internal contest with
ex-Prime Minister Francois Fillon on Sunday, sent a letter of
support to the protesters.
While he said he would not join them, other elected UMP
representatives and mayors were among demonstrators in Paris.
Lyon Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who has said marriage was
defined at the very start of the Bible as created by God to join
man and woman, was one of around 10,000 protesters in that city,
according to figures from the organisers.
"I'm here like everyone else, like the Protestants, the
Catholics, the Muslims, the philosophers, it's a message to
politicians so that a debate is organised on such a fundamental
issue," he said, adding that he had come as a "simple citizen".
The archbishop of Toulouse, Robert Le Gall, joined 10,000
there, according to organisers. Police said there were 5,000.