French government escalates row with Catholics over gay marriage plan
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.
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.
Peillon’s 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 traditional marriage.
The shrill 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.
Laurent 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.
Conservatives 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.
Opinion 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. A 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.