Hundreds of thousands of French people paraded down one of Paris’ largest avenues yesterday, chanting slogans and proudly displaying bright pink and light blue banners.
What was all the fuss about? Well, these multitudes were vigorously protesting a bill which will likely legalize gay marriage in France.
France’s Socialist president, Francois Hollande, wants to pass the bill, while the mostly conservative opposition views it as divisive, unnecessary, and ‘unnatural.’
French supporters of gay marriage call it Le Mariage Pour Tous (or “Marriage For All.”) The clever opposition has snarkily re-appropriated much of the gay rights movement’s rhetoric by calling its mass demonstration La Manif Pour Tous (“The Protest For All.”) The whole Pour Tous trend has even trickled down to the most basic forms of market capitalism- during the demonstration, I saw a street vendor noisily hawking Le Sandwich Pour Tous.
Anyways, I attended this massive Parisian protest yesterday as a passive observer, and was surprised by a number of things. First, I am always shocked at the capacity of French people to use pretty much anything as an excuse for a protest.
But what was more interesting to me was this re-appropriation the anti-gay-marriage folks were using. That’s why they chose bright pink as their main colour (and even chanted “Bleu-Blanc-Rose!” as they marched.) The set-up of the event was also very hip, with speakers blasting hits from Gotye, Coldplay, Keane, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers all along the Avenue de la Grande Armee.
The Manif Pour Tous’ marketing seems to have worked- the crowd was certainly energized. The protestors were a mix of young couples – many of whom brought their children – and old pensioners coming in from the provinces. One of my great-aunts actually took the train from her countryside home solely to attend this protest (a note to US liberals- these are the risks inherent in promoting high-speed rail!)
The protestors seemed to mostly be from a rather BCBG (bon chic bon genre i.e. good style, good class) background. That is, the traditional Catholic and well-educated upper-middle-class French, who are more powerful than most stereotypes of France convey.
The intricacies of French social classes are too complicated to describe here. But the quite chic protestors were definitely from a particular layer of French society, the type which goes to mass on Sundays, has family dinners, and ensures every one of its females wears a headband.
Despite these BCBG roots, the rhetoric during the rally at times veered to the extreme. One of the speakers, Henri Guaino, bellowed: “Enough with having to demolish our culture, our civilization, our identity! Yes – our identity; that word does not scare us!”
At one point, several hundred protestors tried to go past the riot police barriers preventing them from attaining the Champs-Elysees. They were gassed by the police, leading to a lot of unnecessary comparisons between President Hollande and Bashar al-Assad on Twitter.
Anyways, I am for gay marriage but won’t harp on about my views here. Whatever your thoughts on the issue, enjoy the photos I took of the protest, and watch the demonstration’s speakers at this link if that’s your cup of tea.
All photos by Charles Rollet.