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