PARIS — Thousands of French marched on Sunday, France’s Mother’s Day, to protest the recent legalization of gay marriage. Despite initial worries, the demonstration was largely peaceful, with the police estimating that about 150,000 people took part
Separately, the French police said they were continuing to search for the man responsible for stabbing a uniformed soldier in the neck on Saturday evening, an act that may have been inspired by the murder of a British soldier last week in retaliation for Western military intervention in Muslim countries.
The anti-gay-marriage march occurred as a recent poll shows many French are losing patience with the protests against the “marriage for all” law that passed May 18. The demonstrations have broadened to include those angry at the president for his overall leadership and some far-right protesters who have been violent.
Marchers converged from three parts of Paris to the esplanade in front of the Invalides. There was a separate, smaller march by conservative Christians.
In general, the demonstrations against the law have included a combination of religious leaders and their followers, opposed to gay marriage on religious grounds, and more conservative French, many of them Roman Catholic, who believe that gay couples should have equal rights, but within an institution other than marriage. Many also object to the new ability of gay married couples to adopt children, arguing that a child should be raised by a man and a woman.
In the prelude to the protest, on Saturday night, 59 people were arrested after chaining themselves to metal barricades on the Champs-Élysées. On Sunday, 19 demonstrators were arrested after they climbed onto the headquarters of the Socialist Party and unfurled a banner demanding that President President François Hollande resign. Police officers also seized a van with masks, banners and smoke bombs, and near the end of Sunday’s demonstration, they used tear gas to break up a gathering of some masked protesters believed to be rightists known as “ultras.”
As an indication of the confusion around the focus of Sunday’s march, the main opposition party, the center-right Union for a Popular Movement, or UMP, was split on whether to join. The party’s president, Jean-François Copé, urged participation, while other party dignitaries, like former foreign minister, Alain Juppé, urged people to remain at home.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, a Socialist, accused the UMP of “sparking tension and radicalization.”
With much advance publicity, the first gay marriage is supposed to take place Wednesday in Montpellier, sometimes called the San Francisco of France.
The case of the wounded soldier, Pfc. Cédric Cordier, 23, is being handled by France’s antiterrorism court, officials said Sunday. He was stabbed in the back of the neck with a box cutter or short knife as he patrolled with two colleagues through the transport station of La Défense, a business area in a western suburb of Paris.
Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited the soldier in the hospital and said that he had been targeted because he was a soldier. Initial reports said that the assailant was a man of North African appearance, about 30 years old, with a small beard. By the time the two soldiers patrolling in front could react, the man had disappeared into a crowd.
Private Cordier was in stable condition at a military hospital; the knife missed his jugular vein, doctors said.
The police suggested on Sunday that the deed may have been inspired by the attack on a British soldier in a London street on Wednesday. A spokesman for the police union UNSA, Christophe Crépin, said there were similarities with the London attack. “I think this person wanted to imitate what happened in London,” he told TELE television.
But the interior minister, Manuel Valls, who ordered the terrorism investigation, said it was too early to determine the motivation for the attack because the police had yet to arrest a suspect or gather enough evidence to offer credible theories about what inspired it.
France has been on high alert since its military intervention against Islamist rebels in Mali in January. That prompted threats against French interests from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.