French Catholics march against same-sex marriage

* Over 100,000 turn out in Church-approved, dissident

marches

* All oppose government plans for gay marriage by mid-2013

* Senior clerics, some Muslim leaders join protesters

PARIS, Nov 18 (Reuters) - More than 100,000 protesters

organised by Catholic groups staged separate demonstrations in

French cities over the weekend to protest against government

plans to legalise same-sex marriage next year.

Most of them took to the streets on Saturday, backed by the

French Catholic Church and joined by several senior clerics, and

several thousand more paraded with ultra-traditionalist

Catholics in Paris on Sunday.

Though marching separately, they chanted the same slogan -

"one father + one mother for all children" - and denounced the

Socialist government's plan. Polls show about 60 percent support

for the reform, but not the right for gay people to adopt

children.

"Shame on the president, who'll protect the infants?"

chanted protesters on Sunday as they passed boutiques and

gourmet food shops in the capital's chic seventh arrondissement.

In the daily Le Monde on Saturday, the heads of the

Catholic, Muslim, Protestant and Jewish communities urged

President Francois Hollande's government to allow more time for

a public debate on what they said was a foundation of society.

In the same edition, a front-page editorial called the plan

"a legitimate, necessary and progressive reform" and said it

will have been amply debated in public by the time the bill has

its first reading in parliament in January.

Also on Saturday, Pope Benedict encouraged French bishops

visiting him in the Vatican to oppose the reform, saying "the

Church's voice must make itself heard relentlessly and with

determination".

Hollande made gay marriage one of his campaign promises and

his government plans to legalise it by mid-2013. It will include

adoption rights for gay couples, but not the option of assisted

procreation methods such as artificial insemination.

CHILDREN

Alexandre and Emilie Philippe, a young Parisian couple

marching on Sunday with two of their four small children, said

they knew the law would eventually pass. "But we wanted to show

our disapproval," he said.

Carrying a sign saying "One papa + one mama - what else?",

she said: "We're doing this for our children. Their generation

is the one that will be affected by this."

Initially caught off guard, the government has been hitting

back at opponents of same-sex marriage. Social Affairs Minister

Marisol Touraine said Saturday's turnout was "insignificant" and

no better than the crowds that opposed civil unions in 1999.

The civil unions created back then were quickly accepted and

their annual total is now approaching that of traditional

marriages. Only 6 percent are undertaken by same-sex couples.

Organisers and police disagreed on the turnout. On Sunday,

organisers estimated the Paris crowd at 18,000 and police at

half that number.

On Saturday, organisers said 200,000 people demonstrated in

the French capital, compared with a police estimate of 70,000.

Thousands more marched in Lyon, Marseille and other major towns.

Lyon Cardinal Philippe Barbarin joined the march there along

with Kamel Kabtane, rector of the Grand Mosque of Lyon, and

other Muslim leaders. Toulouse Archbishop Robert Le Gall marched

with the protesters there on Saturday.

At Sunday's protest, Rev Regis de Cacqueray, head of the

French district of the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint

Pius X (SSPX), marched with priests in long black cassocks and

laymen waving flags of far-right Catholic and royalist groups.

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.

(Additional reporting by James Regan and Chine Labbé; Writing

by Tom Heneghan; Editing by Alison Williams)

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