PARIS — More than 100,000 people turned out Saturday across France for rallies against government plans to approve same-sex marriage and adoption, as police clashed with counter-demonstrators in one city.
Wearing pink scarves and T-shirts and carrying pink balloons with the image of a man and woman holding two children's hands, demonstrators marched against reforms planned by the socialist government.
They marched under banners that carried slogans such as "Pro-marriage, not anti-gay" and "Long live the true family". A Roman Catholic humorist who goes by the name of "Frigide Barjot" opened the Paris protest.
"We are born from a man and a woman," she told the crowd through a megaphone. "A child is the result of a man and a woman's orgasm."
Some 70,000 people joined the Paris rally, police said -- though organisers put the figure at 200,000 -- with more than 30,000 others holding similar protests in towns around the country.
In the southeastern city of Lyon, 22,000 people protested, police said. Officers there detained around 40 youths who had come to oppose the main rally.
And police in the southwestern city of Toulouse used tear gas against a group of several hundred activists who tried to confront the main rally of several thousand in a counter-protest.
Up to 8,000 marched in the southern city of Marseille, where they too were confronted by supporters of gay marriage. There were other protests in the northwestern towns of Rennes and Nantes, and in the northern town of Laon.
Women's rights minister and government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem defended the right of homosexuals to marry and to adopt as representing progress for everyone.
She said there had been a similar uproar when France backed civil marriages for gay couples 14 years earlier, yet this had since been accepted.
Parliament would in any case consult widely on the issue and this would be the time for debate, she added, warning against against excess and polemic.
French President Francois Hollande's government has come under fire from Catholic groups and the right-wing opposition over the bill.
The marches came as Pope Benedict XVI called on the French church Saturday to make its voice heard on social issues.
Organisations backing the rallies included a group of homosexuals opposed to the bill called More Gay Without Marriage; a leftwing group called Left for Republican Marriage; and a French Muslim group called Sons of France.
Anti-abortion group Alliance Vita also backed the campaign.
In Paris, protesters brandished posters with slogans such as "Homo marriage is wrong, long live the true family" and "Everyone comes from a man and a woman".
Protester Beatrice Bodji said she had come because "children are taken hostage" if same-sex marriage and adoption are allowed.
"It's scandalous that the government wants to institutionalise a state lie by hiding the fact that the basis of every child is a dad and a mom," Jean-Marie Barbiche, who came with his wife and four children, told AFP.
Fanny Neige and Anais, two homosexual counter-demonstrators, staged a rally of their own? kissing each other in front of the crowd.
"We'll start a family whether they want us to or not," said Fanny Neige.
Another demonstration against gay marriage has been called in Paris for Sunday by the Catholic organisation Civitas.
And the campaigners intend to keep up the pressure, with more demonstrations called for January 13.