Here's another addition to Europe's turbulent week: hundreds of thousands protested, and occasionally skirmished with police, in Paris today against the country's new gay marriage laws. Yes, that's Paris, France. The same country that hosts the Cannes film festival, where a lesbian romance film won the Palme d'Or today.
Of course, this isn't the first time anti-gay marriage protesters have taken to the streets of Paris to protest the law - they've been doing that since the fall, when the country's new gay marriage law was just a bill working its way through the country's legislative system. And it isn't the first time protesters have clashed with police — there were 5,000 officers on hand today, by the way, to handle a crowd of about 150,000 by most estimates (organizers claim a million people showed up, but no one else seems to agree).
But the nature of the protests has changed some: when they started last fall, the anti-gay marriage protests were Roman Catholic Church-led, one-issue protests more or less. But they're now definitely about expressing wider opposition to Francis Hollande, the country's left-wing president. The crowd seems to be changing, at least a little, too. Now, fewer and fewer clergy are showing up to protest, as Reuters explains. And one well-known anti-gay activist, Frigide Barjot, is apparently scared of the fringes of the movement she once helped to lead. She wasn't at today's protest, despite telling the press a week ago that she and "millions" of others would be there.
By most accounts, the majority of the organized marches were peaceful (at least some protesters felt comfortable enough to march with their kids, for example), but there were about 100 arrests related to the protests across the city. Here's one of them:
As the Guardian explains, most of the far-right groups joining the protests have grouped together as "Printemps Français" — French Spring. The French interior ministry threatened to ban the group earlier this week.
Aside from the "Printemps Français's" presence, there's another reason why officials were on edge about today's marches: earlier this week, a well-known far-right historian killed himself in the Notre Dame cathedral, hours after penning a blog post denouncing the gay marriage law. Dominique Venner, 79, was also known for his work on what he believed to be an existential battle between Europeans and Muslims. Venner, referring to today's march, believed that protests were not "enough," echoing the far-right's growing consensus in the country that they'll have to more aggressively confront the total policies of the country's more liberal government.
France's gay marriage law, which also allows gay couples to adopt, went into effect last week. While the majority of the country supports gay marriage, France in recent months has seen frequent high-profile protests against it, and an increase in instances of homophobic violence, according to a group that tracks it.
In any case, the first gay wedding is scheduled for Wednesday, to be held in the southern city of Montpellier.