Thousands celebrate family purity in Georgia as anti-government protests simmer

Thousands of Georgians led by Orthodox Christian clergy celebrated “Family Purity Day” on Friday, marching down the same main street in Tbilisi that has been the scene of some of the most violent anti-government protests in the country’s history. The opposing groups staging the marches – pro-Orthodox and conservative on the one hand and pro-European on the other – highlight the deep divisions within Georgian society as it grapples with an unprecedented political crisis.

For more than a month, thousands of protesters, many of them young people, have filled the streets of Tbilisi almost every night to voice their opposition to a draft “foreign agent” law that they condemn as authoritarian and Russian-inspired. The United States and the European Union have repeatedly warned the ruling Georgian Dream party against dropping the law as protesters fear it could harm the South Caucasus country's attempts to join the European Union.

Since mid-April, dozens of rally participants have been arrested or hospitalized after police used water cannons and fired tear gas canisters and stun grenades to disperse crowds. In contrast, Friday's march received the tacit support of Georgian Dream, attended by leading members including Prime Minister Iraqi Kobakhidze.

The “Day of Family Purity and Respect for Parents” was declared an official government holiday this year and celebrates what the Georgian Orthodox Church calls the country's “family values”: marriage between a man and a woman. LGBTQ rights are a contentious issue in Georgia, a traditionally Orthodox Christian country of 3.7 million people.

Georgian Dream introduced a bill in March that would, among other things, ban gender reassignment surgery and adoptions by same-sex couples. Opponents saw the move as an attempt to boost the company's popularity ahead of elections later this year. The church began observing Family Purity Day in 2014, a year after an LGBTQ rights rally in Tbilisi was violently dispersed by crowds led by priests and conservative groups. May 17th is celebrated in many countries as International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.

On Friday, crowds of mostly families and elderly people marched through the streets of Tbilisi, waving Orthodox icons and Georgian flags. In front of Parliament, where demonstrators were taken away by police just a few days ago, people lined up for their turn to kiss a large icon held aloft by a priest dressed in black robes.

“Today is a great day,” said protester Zviad Sekhniashvili, dressed in the traditional costume of Caucasian highlanders. “Family is our fortress… That is why God created man and woman: to have a family, to have children.”

Other vacationers said they saw the family as tied to the concept of the Georgian nation. “Family is like a small state,” said a woman who gave her name as Mariam. “If our family is doing well, it’s good for the country.”

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)