The French are more conflicted by love-locks because they are, well, French
Author Sarah Stern who wrote "The Chronicles of an Adulterous" dismisses putting padlock's on bridges. She is one of the few within the romance & adult novel community that feels this way. She explains that it makes her think of the middle ages and the chastity belt. Yet it is not far removed from carving initials in a tree, which is far less obvious in most cases, but imagine if thousands of people started carving up our trees?
Lovers who then throw the keys to their locks in the river, do this to reflect their eternal love. It has become a symbol of love despite some French authors being conflicted about "Love in chains" or submitting to one another for eternity. With so many bridges being festooned with locks, some French authors have pointed out that historical personalities like Josephine were more powerful than Napoleon as reflected in his letters to her, opining how he cannot live without her and French icon Edith Piaf on the other hand in her letters, reflected her desire to be almost owned by her lovers. For all of these reasons, the French seem to have taken these love-locks to another level of discourse. Some claiming it is a form of imprisonment or enslavement commitment, while other take a lighter, more romantic tone.
Locals note that it is only tourists that leave locks, but in fact, it is both tourists and locals. These are idealists that aren't concerned about losing their lovers. It is rare that anyone is seen cutting a lock that was placed some time ago when a relationship goes bad, but that is likely part of the hope and faith that these couples have when placing locks on bridges of France and around the world. While the French like to consider their cities as the leaders in romance and love, it is a phenomenon that is a worldwide phenomenon despite the naysayers in local communities.
Love-Locks all over the world
Decorated with names, dates or initials, locks can be seen on gates, fences or bridges and even have special expressions in countries like Taiwan where this practice is called "Wish Locks" as opposed to "Love Locks". Locks of all kinds can be found on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, Cologne, Germany, Ponte Milvio in Rome, the Hohenzollern Bridge, bridges in Moscow, Serbia, Dublin, Canada and many others across the Western world. Some bridges, gates and fences are so adorned with locks of all kinds (they don't have to be padlocks, but people do tend to malign those who leave cheap locks from luggage, suggesting that those relationships won't survive), that they heave under the weight, but local officials refuse to remove them, if only for bridge maintenance when it is required. Some local governments even install trees to hold locks expected to be left over time.
Few if any explanations are absolute in this tradition that came back with renewed vigor in the early 2000's. There is evidence that a number of novels and folk tales that date back to the early 20th century between lovers and those with affairs, used locks to try to restore and save their relationships. When and if they ended, those locks were cut and buried, or thrown into the rivers that they were affixed over. Others believe that as long as the longs remain affixed over the constantly moving water of a river, it will lock-in the love over the passage of time.
Quaint expression of love or public menace
As the incidence of love-locks increases, public outcry takes on a more vocal and sustained din. Those that don't have love, romance or intimacy in their lives, typically point out the potential damage to heritage sites, the functioning of public bridges, distractions or that these exhibitions of love are just plain eyesores. In all cases where these expressions of love have taken on and over significant landmarks, public authorities have relented as the pressures for tourism, maintaining the "purity" of the sites and potential negative media coverage have overcome the minority of practical and rational opponents to the love-locks.
This silent new-tradition can also look back to roman times, when couples would put their names on pieces of cloth in hats or practice chasing each-other once suitors were identified as a precursor to modern day Valentine's Day (it wasn't that benign as some would be hit with sticks or some other kind of pain to mark that person as their own, ouch!). Certainly, padlocks are a far less painful way to express our eternal love for each other and as a popular public display as well. The fact that love-locks are benign, silent expressions as opposed to an outgoing whooping it-up, drunken debauchery that some find is a better way to express their love and affection, suggests that public authorities are managing the substantial rise in a responsible and supportive way. It's good to see that some romantic traditions are being supported as opposed to outlawed. We can all look for more, inexpensive but heartfelt ways to express and solidify our love and affection for each-other. Especially in these high-stress, high-divorce and relationship conflict times. Any lock will do!