SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — Thousands of people gathered outside the cathedral in North Macedonia’s capital on Thursday during a protest organized by the country’s Orthodox Church against proposed legislation on gender equality and identity which it says threatens family values.

Church leader Archbishop Stefan said at the gathering in Skopje that the proposed bills would introduce “unacceptable and insulting new ideologies.”

He said the message of Thursday’s protest was to ”say ‘yes’ to life, to emphasize the sanctity of the family formed by one man and one woman, (and) to say that we will we defend our dearest, the children.”

The protest was also supported by North Macedonia’s leading Islamic officials, the Catholic Church and other religious communities.

The left-wing government hasn’t officially released any details on either draft bill. Labor and Welfare Minister Jovanka Trenchevska has said the one on gender equality is aimed to “improve the position of women in all spheres of social life” and “offer equal opportunities for men and women.”

Neither has yet been submitted to Parliament. The one on gender equality is still at the stage of public debate, while the government indefinitely froze work on the one on gender identity before it advanced that far.

Media reports say the gender identity bill would allow all residents of the country over age 16 to define their gender on their official police identity cards. After it was frozen, they said, part of it was incorporated in the gender equality bill.

Archbishop Stefan said the proposed bills would force the Church “to speak and express itself in the language of some world order that is alien to the word and spirit of the holy fathers and the holy gospel.”

Trenchevska said critics were erroneously conflating the two separate proposals.

North Macedonia, a largely conservative Balkan country — about 63% of whose 1.8 million people are Orthodox Christians — is deeply divided on LGBTQ+ rights.

Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 1996, but same-sex couples and their households don’t enjoy the same legal protections as opposite-sex married couples.

The ILGA-Europe advocacy group in 2019 ranked North Macedonia 34th out of 49 European countries in terms of LGBTQ+ rights legislation.

On Wednesday, a Christian Orthodox bishop said the Church should note which lawmakers back the two draft bills.

“Then, if it wishes, the Church can decide that those MPs should be deprived from baptisms, weddings, funerals and all other religious services,” Bishop David wrote on his blog.

North Macedonia’s Platform for Gender Equality and the Network for Protection against Discrimination said Thursday’s protest was an attempt to interfere with the country’s secular order and showed disrespect for the constitution.