MARSEILLES ANTI SAME-SEX MARRIAGE DEMONSTRATION, 2012
A thousand dollars had given us a month in a one room apartment in Le Panier, the old district of Marseilles, and we were at midpoint on a cool, sunny Saturday.
Exiting the North African market area munching on matlou from an Algerian bakery, we were walking up La Canabiere in search of a hot chocolate. Charlie stopped to take a few photos of a street library set into a giant welded copper plate sculpture of a giraffe and offspring. Books were exiting one side as fast as they were going in the other.
Luring us on with its siren call of possible photo opportunities there was a crowd gathering towards the steepled heap at the top of the street. A few placards visible as we got closer and then a parked van bannered with a message in blue and pink: MARIAGE = UN HOMME + UNE FEMME . . . ENFANT = UNE MERE + UN PERE. Well, well . . . .
Two young women one with microphone in hand, university students my guess, asked if we understood what was going on and what did we think. My French by 2012 was only useful for ordering cafe au lait and Marseille French itself is a sub-species, so we all switched to franglais. Yes, the nature of the demonstration was fairly apparent, and given the number of priests hovering it seemed particularly Catholic. I asked about one of the banners and they said something about the Catholics and the fascists coming together. A bit of humour from Charlie about how a person might tell the difference, a remark from me on how small the protest was, we all had our laugh and they went on their way.
I'd spoken too soon, the demonstration grew to three or four thousand and we climbed the stairs of the nearby church in search of a better vantage point. On the steps and in the crowd more priests glad-handing with demonstrators. Speeches from a truck platform then a march finally forms up, hemmed in on both sides by tram tracks and passing streetcars.
A small group of socialists and a queer contingent heckled from the sidelines. One fearsome queen (I think: I was too far away for a good look) in a skirt waved a pair of pink boxing gloves that tastefully matched her running shoes.
As we all head down towards the Vieux Port, the march stretches over several long blocks. Predominantly middle-age and older men and women, there are a few teenagers and young families in the mix. Everyone is neatly and practically dressed and coiffed, seemingly middle-class, Catholic -- altogether a very white crowd despite an exception or two. This in a multicultural, multicoloured, immigrant city that's 30% Muslim, 10% Jewish.
Pink, along with blue, is an official colour of the cause and there are touches of it here and there among scarves and sweaters and hats. One man notable for his pink pants is repeatedly in eager conversation with various white robed priests. The march is well behaved, a Catholic flock shepherded by its church. A group of eager marshals, all clean-cut young men whose attitude from time to time makes them seem a bit too much like a fascist youth wing, herd the edges.
As we followed alongside the protest I joked to Charlie people looked almost "Normal", albeit as though off to some grim church picnic. A couple of dykes seeing us crack up burst out laughing too. Ahead of us another lesbian pair were moving along with placards, flowers, and a bicycle. Now they'd set up their own small counter demonstration by a subway entrance. Charlie asked if he could take a photograph. They wanted to know which side we were on. Really!? Us? I gave Charlie a big hug and they said as long as he agreed not to use the photo in any public venue. Nearby a woman in a hijab watching the four of us, an incredulous look on her face, big eyes as we hugged. After we moved off I doubled back to give them our email address in case they wanted a copy of the photo, but they'd already disappeared into the subway.
Finally the protest turned off onto St. Fereol, a major pedestrian street that lead to a long narrow square. At the entrance to the square the marshals for the march linked arms and blocked entry to the small left wing counter protest following. Now the two sides were face to face, chanting slogans and hurling insults. Soon a police squad with riot shields arrived to stand between.
That seemed to be bringing things to a close here, so Charlie and I headed off in search of some other access to the square and speechifying. Most of the sidestreets were blocked off by cops and we ended up in front of the Prefecture watching from a distance. Charlie took a couple more photos then we settled for a hot chocolate at the Virgin megastore cafe. A young couple, male and female, wearing socialist badges came in behind us and we exchanged a few pleasantries but the language barrier kept it to that.
Though the far right National Front vowed to do away with same-sex marriage and replace it with civil unions, it's been suggested by Associated Press a third of those in same-sex marriages supported the party in the 2015 regional elections. And in a national survey before the 2017 first round of the French presidential election, 16% of all LGBTQ voters said they were voting National Front, 2% higher than support from the electorate overall.