A pro-gay marriage rally in Paris, France has gathered tens of thousands of people only days before a major parliamentary debate that will decide whether homosexual couples will be awarded the same rights as heterosexual ones when it comes to adopting children.
Police estimate that close to 125,000 people turned out for the demonstration in France, which featured people in costumes as well as rainbow-colored banners and slogans. Organizers put the number closer to 400,000, according to France 24. The event followed last week's pro-traditional marriage march, which gathered roughly twice as many people according to sources – police placed the number at 340,000, while organizers claimed 800,000.
France remains divided in its views toward same-sex marriage, but President Francois Hollande has made his plans to legalize same-sex marriage in the European country clear. The Socialist leader hopes to change France's marriage laws this year, and join several other western European countries that allow same-sex couples to marry.
French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira described this proposed reform as addressing "a situation of flagrant inequality." She acknowledged that protests against the reform are coming mainly from conservatives and Roman Catholics, who want to preserve marriage as a union between one man and one woman, but Taubira insisted that "the conditions of marriage will go unchanged; nothing will change for heterosexual couples."
"This bill will protect all families. It will protect children's rights," the justice minister said, according to newspaper Journal du Dimanche.
"We're not demonstrating in response to our opposition. We've been demonstrating for 10 years already," Nicolas Gougain of the Inter-LGBT association said in an interview with France 24.
"Some of those people believe that giving homosexuals the same rights as heterosexuals will destabilize society," Gougain added. "Or that homosexual parents are potentially dangerous for their children."
Commentators have said that as a central country in Europe, France's decision to legalize same-sex marriage can influence the rest of the continent as well.
"When marriage passes in France it will have a significant impact across Europe," suggested Brian Ellner, the co-coordinator of the Human Rights' Campaign which fought for gay marriage in New York in 2011. "Just as our New York win unleashed momentum across the United States, France is a cultural capital of Europe and historically has led on issues important to civil society."
Support for gay marriage and adoption for gay couples has been growing in France, according to a recent poll conducted by French news site Atlantico.fr, which reported that the proportion of French people who support same-sex marriage is now at 63 percent, while support for gay adoption rights is at 49 percent.
Pro-traditional marriage and family supporters during last week's protest claimed, however, that the established family unit should not be reconstructed.
"This law is going to lead to a change of civilization that we don't want," Philippe Javaloyes, a protester, was quoted as saying. "We have nothing against different ways of living, but we think that a child must grow up with a mother and a father."
Melissa Michel, a Franco-American mother of five, added: "They're talking about putting into national identity cards Parent 1, Parent 2, Parent 3, Parent 4. Mom, dad and the kids are going to be wiped off the map, and that's going to be bad for any country, any civilization."