Pope Francis has backed hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholics and other pro-traditional marriage supporters who marched against proposals to legalize gay marriage in Mexico over the weekend, saying that he supports the defense of "family and life."
"I join willingly the bishops of Mexico in supporting the efforts of the Church and civil society in favor of the family and of life, which at this time require special pastoral and cultural attention worldwide," Francis said after the weekly Angelus prayer, Crux Catholic Media reported on Sunday.
The Associated Press reported that as many as 215,000 people attended the traditional marriage rally, according to the National Front for the Family. They were dressed in white and carried white balloons in support of traditional marriage, or the union between one man and one woman.
The marches in Mexico City were aimed directly against President Enrique Pena Nieto's plans to legalize same-sex marriage, which has caused great controversy in the largely Catholic country.
Evangelicals also joined the march, with Pastor Abraham Ledesma from the border city of Reynosa explaining that the protest is "not against anybody's (sexual) identity."
"What we are against is the government imposition ... of trying to impose gender ideology in education. As religious leaders, we don't want to be forced to marry same-sex couples and call it marriage," Ledesma said.
Gay marriage is already legal in parts of Mexico, such as Mexico City, the northern state of Coahuila and Quintana Roo state on the Caribbean coast, but Nieto's plans would legalize it nationwide.
Bishop Pedro Pablo Elizondo of Cancun, Mexico, said parents deserve the right to control their children's education, and vowed that he is "willing to go to prison to defend the family," should he have no other choice.
"I think some charitable soul would go to visit me, especially in this year of mercy," Elizondo added, noting that the government is looking to accuse those protesting gay marriage of carrying out "civil disobedience."
Reuters noted that marches against the proposed legalization of gay marriage have been carried out on a number of weekends in September, drawing tens of thousands of people in the city of Queretaro and other places.
"I think it was something unprecedented, the awakening of the society of Queretaro in defense of the family," Jose Alcantara, an organizer with the National Front for the Family, said at the time, revealing that the group had gathered more than 100,000 signatures to preserve traditional marriage.
BBC News added that LGBT supporters also attended the pro-traditional marriage rally last Saturday to show their support for Nieto's proposal, though there were no clashes reported by police.
Some gay marriage supporters carried banners that read: "I'm gay and I'm a Catholic" and "We also have families," BBC News added.