The French Health Ministry will take legal action after at least 10 mayors banned a series of posters promoting safe sex amongst gay and bisexual men.
The four posters in the new campaign show fully clothed male couples, some interracial, in an embrace, along with responsible-sex messaging.
They were put up by the ministry in public areas in 130 towns and cities around the country, but have been met with moral outrage by some conservatives. There have been complaints that the images are pornographic or immoral and are inappropriate for children to see.
A number of towns have officially requested that they be removed, or have gone ahead and removed them from some locations, following objections from outraged residents and right-wing politicians and groups.
On Twitter, photos appear to show that some of the posters have been defaced. One, located on the side of a bus shelter, had the words “porno stop” scrawled on it, while others were covered in paint.
A petition calling for the withdrawal of the campaign has amassed around 55,000 signatures.
Aurélien Beaucamp, the President of the group AIDS, said he was “very surprised” at the virulent opposition to the campaign. “If there had been a heterosexual couple in the photos, none of this would have happened,” he told TouteLaCulture.com.
Marisol Touraine, the Minister of Health, has also defended the posters and accused the mayors of censorship.
She posted the images on Twitter and wrote: “Some refuse to see two men together and want to censor this campaign? Share it! Your RT + is the beautiful answer.”
Touraine also suggested that racism was linked to the negative response to the campaign, tweeting: “AIDS is not racist or homophobic…”
The minster further announced that she was going to take the mayors to court for the sake of “public health and against homophobia…”
The alarming reaction to the posters, which are not explicit in any way, are indicative of a growing conservative social and political revival in France and across Europe.
Last month, around 25,000 people took to the streets of Paris to demand the repeal of marriage equality in France. They gathered to affirm the primacy of the “traditional family” and to condemn same-sex marriage, gay adoption, surrogacy and abortion.