Half a million people of all ages, including many families with children, took to the streets of Paris once more on Sunday to protest the French government’s “anti-family” policies and to express their anger over legalization by stealth of surrogate motherhood. Incredibly, the “Manif pour tous” (demonstration for all) continues to attract gigantic crowds who will not be deterred either by past failure or by governmental soothsaying. For the seventh time running, despite the legalization of same-sex “marriage,” which brought hundreds of thousands into the French capital last year in protest, what seemed impossible two years ago came true once again: families are rising up to say “no.”

The rally departed at 1 p.m. from the Porte Dauphine in the west of Paris and covered over 4 miles to reach its endpoint as fixed by the police authorities: a relatively small square at the meeting point of several thoroughfares in front of Montparnasse train station where a podium had been installed. This was seen as an initial and calculated annoyance: not only was the venue far too small to contain the immense crowds but the course offered no good vantage point for photographers to give a realistic impression of their numbers.

According to police figures the rally attracted 70,000 people, slightly less than the official expected figure released on the eve of the march. As an eyewitness it is difficult to believe these statements: I saw hundreds marching past, at least 20 or 30 abreast, many with small children, in dense formation, for several hours. The whole march covered a full 5 km from end to end (roughly 3.5 miles); many joined along the way and even more returned home upon reaching Montparnasse to allow the upcoming waves of protesters to complete the course. Two or three hundred thousand participants would seem a conservative estimate and probably 500,000 is much nearer to the truth.

And that is surprising. Mobilizing such numbers to protest against a clear-cut proposal with an imminent risk of execution such as the legalization of same-sex “marriage” was already an astonishing feat in secularized France. This time round, the rally’s focal point was the condemnation of artificial fertilization and surrogate motherhood for same-sex couples: both were deliberately left out of the law last year by the socialist government, probably under the “Manif pour tous” pressure. And François Hollande has repeated that he has no intention of legalizing either under this term of his presidency.

But French families are more and more wary about Hollande and his team’s promises. A circular sent last year to birth registrars and tribunals by the justice minister, Christiane Taubira, required the authorities to facilitate the inscription of children born of surrogate mothers abroad from French “customers” as French citizens in registries, without question, even though surrogacy is illegal in France.

While the French Constitutional Court resisted this measure last June, several decisions not to recognize this type of filiation that reached the European Court of Human Rights last month were criticized by the European judges for not having recognized homosexual couples’ right to “private and family life.” Courts are expected to follow the ECHR’s ruling. A few weeks ago, the Constitutional Court gave its opinion that lesbian couples obtaining artificial insemination abroad should not be punished for this illegal action and that the female partner of the biological mother should be allowed to adopt the child without question, “in the child’s best interest.”

This was sufficient to trigger the massive response we saw on Sunday, in what is probably the only major demonstration in the world to have centered a protest on the ills of deliberately dissociating biological parenthood from “social” parenthood.

Other factors also played a role: the nomination of Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, a supporter of gender equality, as France’s new education minister in August, a slap in the face for the “Manif pour tous” public, certainly prompted many not to lay down their blue and pink flags and take to the streets again in sweatshirts bearing the march’s distinctive logo: a childlike drawing of a father, a mother, a boy and a girl. Many protesters had identity checks and were even kept in custody for wearing the sign last year. It has become a rallying sign all over France. The mention of her name by Ludovine de La Rochère and other speakers on Sunday prompted vigorous booing.

Sunday’s event was also an occasion to day “no” to gender ideology, which is becoming more and more pervasive in the French school curriculum with which all public-funded schools – including the Catholic ones – must comply. Government ministers such as Najat Vallaud-Belkacem frequently insist that “gender ideology” does not exist. Several websites in France keep track of its multiple appearances in the media, schools, and universities.

De La Rochère made it clear she has no hope of seeing the same-sex “marriage” law or “Loi Taubira” repealed by this government, but she insisted that it should be a major theme during the presidential election coming up in 2017. Up to date, the few politicians who have agreed to dismantle homosexual “marriage” have announced that they will seek to “ameliorate” the existing civil union contract or “pacs” (civil solidarity pact) tailored for homosexual couples in 2001, but which is attracting ever-increasing numbers of “heterosexual” couples because of its simplicity and flexibility (it can be unilaterally ended without notice), to the detriment of marriage.

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Cuts in child benefits and child leave as well as heavier taxes for numerous families announced these last weeks added to the general impression that Hollande will stop at nothing to further his “progressive” agenda.

That the “Manif pour tous” is an aggravating reminder that grassroots France’s conservative support for the natural family has not been extinguished was obvious from the mainstream press’ choice of themes over the last few days. Numerous polls were quoted announcing that “a majority” of the French do not agree with the Manif’s objectives, and that 71 percent of them now agree with same-sex “marriage.”

Manuel Valls himself, the interior minister, said in an interview with the Catholic daily La Croix on Friday that he is now personally against surrogate motherhood, after having said the opposite several times in the last few years. “It is and will remain prohibited in France,” he said. Ludovine de La Rochère prudently welcomed the statement, which came less than 48 hours before Sunday’s march, as a sign that the pro-family march does carry more weight than the authorities are willing to admit. But she did underline that European jurisprudence will make it practically impossible to reject surrogate motherhood in France, even if Manuel Valls is sincere about having “changed his mind.” She asked him for “deeds, not words.”

A similar march in Bordeaux attracted 30,000 people on Sunday afternoon, according to organizers. The local representative of the “Manif pour tous” reminded those present that even if a law is voted, that does not make its object good: “It is time for us to be radical in our choices, whatever the cost, if we want to block the descent to Evil in the name of lesser evil. … Sharpen your spiritual weapons and prepare for a brutal combat. And let us not forget that our adversaries are our lost brothers, and that before being lost, in the first place they are our brothers.”