France's President Francois Hollande has weighed this weekend into the war of words between his government and the Catholic Church over holding discussions in schools on the planned legalisation of same-sex marriage.
supporters and critics dominated the headlines and airwaves on Sunday, a
week before a Church-backed protest in Paris that organisers say could
draw as many as half a million people opposed to any change in
He defended Education Minister
Vincent Peillon on Saturday for urging Catholic schools, which teach
about one-fifth of all pupils in France, to stay neutral in the debate.
polemics could not drown out another big news story, the growing
unpopularity of Hollande and his government. One poll said 75 percent of
voters doubt he can keep a New Year's promise to turn around rising
unemployment this year.
Wauquiez, a former conservative higher education minister, slammed
Peillon for implying that Catholic opposition to the reform was
responsible for suicides of gay teenagers.
"This is a big political manipulation," he said.
also cried foul because government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem
was filmed in a state school last October praising the marriage reform
as progress towards more freedom.
polls show up to 60 percent of the French back same-sex marriage, which
the government plans to legalise by June, and just under 50 percent
support adoption rights for gays.
new poll said 69 percent wanted a referendum on the issue, which all
main religions here - Catholic, Muslim, Protestant, Jewish and Orthodox
Christian - have opposed.
SECULAR RALLYING CRY
triggered the row by saying the director of Catholic education system,
heavily subsidised by the state, was wrong to urge his schools to
discuss same-sex marriage with pupils.
education system, which is under contract to the state, should respect
the principle of neutrality and the freedom of conscience of all," he
stated in a letter to regional education officials who oversee both
state and private schools.
officials should scrutinise the Catholic debates and report any anti-gay
views aired in them, Peillon said, urging extreme caution on this issue
because young homosexuals were five times more prone to suicide than
backed him in the name of "laicite", the legal separation of church and
state that is a secular rallying cry for French opposed to any religion
in the public sphere.
"Laicite is a principle of the Republic," he said.
Religious leaders have encouraged people to join next Sunday's protest but most will not march themselves.
of the new law caught its supporters off guard in November when they
brought about 100,000 out in Paris for what was meant as a warm-up to
the protest in a week's time.
The protest will converge on the Eiffel Tower and include people from all over France, organisers said.
few in traditionally Catholic France attend Mass on Sunday, the Church
can still rally crowds larger than most political protests when its core
interests are threatened.
Passing the law would make France the 12th country around the world to legalise same-sex marriage. It is already allowed in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden.
In the United States, Washington, D.C. and nine states have legalised it, three of them in last November's elections.