.- A French movement dedicated to the understanding of marriage as an institution between a man and a woman has assembled a large coalition that respects all persons, regardless of political affiliation or sexuality.
The question of marriage is “not a question of religion, faith, political opinion; it's a question of life,” Ludovine de La Rochère, president and founder of La Manif Pour Tous, said in a Nov. 1 interview with CNA.
In defining marriage for society, she added, “the question is not homosexuality: it is the reality of marriage and filiation of children.”
La Manif Pour Tous, which translates as “The Demonstration for Everyone” began in late 2012 when French President Francois Hollande announced that his government would pursue the redefinition of marriage to include both same-sex and opposite-sex partners. At the time, France also had civil unions open to all couples regardless of sex.
“From the very beginning it was a great success,” Rochère said. On Nov. 17 2012, a first demonstration of around 200,000 people was held in Paris against the proposed legislation. Over the course of the next several months, a coalition was formed of over 40 organizations representing a variety of people – parents, members of the LGBT community, communists, atheists, Catholics, and Muslims, among others.
“For the first time, many organizations worked together,” she remarked, to protest the French government's insistence on same-sex marriage. “We are open to everybody, and encourage everyone to join,” she said of the movement’s membership.
The largest demonstration was held March 24, 2013, Rochère said, with “at least 1 million” people marching between 3 different locations in Paris alone. Simultaneous marches were held elsewhere across France, she added. In addition, the movement collected over 700,000 signatures on a petition to halt the government's attempt to redefine marriage.
However, the French government and media have both tried to act “as if we never existed,” Rochère said.
After the March 24 demonstration, the French media under-reported the number of protestors at the marches, she claimed, saying that only around 300,000 people attended, and without mention of the other demonstrations.
Rochère said that since the March protest, the French media has not reported on La Manif Pour Tous' other events, and has labeled the movement as “homophobic” and “religious,” despite its broad and diverse support – even among the gay community in France.
In addition, she said, the government, who “thought it would stop,” have ignored the widespread support for La Manif Pour Tous.
“It was terrible for French democracy.”
Between February and April, both the French Senate and National Assembly approved legislation redefining marriage and permitting adoption by same-sex couples. The redefinition of marriage went into effect May 18.
Furthermore, “we began to be arrested” for speaking out in opposition to the law, Rochère said.
“In those demonstrations we have had to defend freedom of thought, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, and freedom of conscience, because many of the demonstrations have been forbidden by the ministry of the interior,” she explained.
Some violators of the government's restriction on the marches, such as a 23-year-old man named Nicolas, were arrested and subjected to “scandalous” prison conditions, she said.
Violations of free speech escalated to the point that the European Union called on France to respect human rights. The French human rights department is also investigating the restrictions on free speech and expression “because it thinks what happened was absolutely illegal.”
“France is the country of human rights, but we are in a situation in which human rights are no longer respected.”
In spite of these difficulties, the group will “go on insisting that we will never surrender.” Rochère stated that even she and the other organizers “didn't realize the determination and motivation and dynamism of each of those Frenchmen who were convinced” of the nature of marriage as an institution oriented to the family.
Since the law has passed, she said, parents across the country have been organizing in their communities “to exercise their parental rights” to know what is being taught to their children about marriage, sexuality, and gender.
Allies of the Manif movement “have proposed to French people to think and debate about” the nature of the family, and potential means of protecting the family through economic policy, and are getting ready to protect the definition of the family as upcoming laws attempt to enshrine in French law the idea that two parents of the same sex are no different from parents of the opposite sex.
Instead, what Rochère and others involved in La Manif Pour Tous wish to emphasize, is the image of “family as the place of solidarity” and the place of filiation.
“When you understand that a child is born to a mother and a father,” she said, the need to protect the “right for children to have a mother and a father” becomes very clear.
This right can be balanced with the rights of all persons, she emphasized, and people should “have great respect” for persons with same-sex attractions.
“Lack of respect for homosexual persons is, of course, abnormal,” Rochère remarked, but stressed that working against the redefinition of marriage “is not homophobia” because “the subject of the family is of interest to all persons.”
“It's a scandal to deprive children of a father and a mother” by adopting them to same-sex couples, she continued, because in such a case “they will be deprived of either a father or a mother.”
In such a case, she proclaimed, the government and society should work to protect children. “The role of the society of the civilization is to protect the weak,” Rochère said, and it is important for those in power to recognize that “children can't be used as anyone wants, they have rights.”
“What is important is that we be together for families.”