The irony of the setting for an Anglo-French rally against same-sex marriage, at the foot of Nelson's Column, was not entirely lost on the crowd.
Amid grey skies and occasional flurries of snow, British and French flags flew side-by-side above the smartly-dressed crowd gathered in Trafalgar Square. Among them, children, men and women, predominantly white and middle-class.
On the other side of a thin police line, the rainbow-coloured flags of emotional counter-protestors fluttered in the chilling breeze.
The official demonstration organised by French coalition group La Manif Pour Tous (March For All), which was established last year in response to potential legislative changes, were voicing their opposition to the UK Government’s ‘Same Sex marriage’ Bill, which has just completed its committee stage in the House of Commons.
Children with banners bearing the organisers' official mantra 'Uphold Marriage' lined the steps to Nelson's Column.
Taking to the stage, speaker Alan Craig, former leader of the Christian Peoples Alliance, acknowledged the countries' combative past before declaring Britain and France were now “united” by a “willingness to stand up against sudden attacks on the vital institution of marriage”.
Organisers claimed as many as 2,000 supporters braved the weather to deliver their controversial message. 'We condemn any expression of homophobia or intolerance (but) family is the basis of society,' another voice explained over the tannoy.
Within minutes of the first speaker taking to the microphone, there were chants from an impassioned counter-rally, weaker in numbers but louder in voice, chanting 'Shame on you!' and “No bigots here!”
A greying man with spectacles and a cane sized up to one counter-campaigner and was led away by his wife by the arm: “Let's go away, this is not for us, this is very bad.” Other members of the crowd were pulled apart by police.
Speaking above the din, 52-year-old Gilles, who has lived in London for 25 years and declined to give his last name, said: “We believe marriage is more than a contract, it is an institution and it needs to be protected.
“We are mindful of homosexuals who want to have children... we do not believe it is in the interests of the child to be parented by homosexuals.”
An opponent of same-sex marriage, Heather Lewis, 63, from Harlow in Essex said she “supports the traditional view of marriage as instituted by God. I am not anti- Gay but I feel under current legislation proposals the Church would have to change and why should it change just because the Government says it should?”
While Manif Pour Tous - a mixture of religious and non-religious groups - claimed to represent the mainstream view of the French people and its British cousins, counter-activist Jacky Pantonnier said he was “ashamed”. “France stands for libertie, egalitie, fraternitie. This is not a reflection of my country but of a small group of people living in the middle ages.”
Today's protest was timed to coincide with a demonstration in Paris which saw thousands rally against plans by the Government in France to redefine marriage and allow children to be adopted by same-sex couples. Tear-gas was used by police to control crowds that swamped two avenues radiating from the Arc de Triomphe.
The French Senate is due to debate the divisive legislation next month, following approval the National Assembly in February this year by a margin of 329 to 229.
In Britain, since 2005, same-sex couples have been allowed to enter into civil partnerships, a separate union which provides the legal consequences of marriage but not legal recognition as such.
The ‘Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill’ for England and Wales had its first reading on 24 January 2013. The bill was debated in the House of Commons on 5 February 2013. The legislation was later approved on second reading in a 400–175 vote.
- More about:
- Arc De Triomphe
- Family And Parenting
- House Of Commons