France legalises gay marriage after vicious debate

It's the home of the City of Love, the land of l'amour. Now France has become the 14th country to legalise same-sex marriage, less than a week after New Zealand.

In its second and final reading, a majority of lawmakers approved the bill by a vote of 331 to 225.

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Cheers greet same-sex marriage vote in France

RAW VISION: As a protester interrupts the final vote in a debating chamber, pro-gay marriage campaigners outside celebrate with champagne.

"After 136 hours and 46 minutes of debate, Parliament has adopted the law opening marriage to same-sex couples," the Socialist speaker of the Assembly, Claude Bartolone, said after the vote.

Justice Minister Christiane Taubira hailed the adoption of the bill as a "historic" moment in French history.

"It grants new rights, stands firmly against discrimination (and) testifies to our country's respect for the institution of marriage," she said in a statement shortly after the vote.

"This law... brightens the horizons of many of our citizens who were deprived of these rights," she said.


The bill must still be signed by President Francois Hollande and is to face a challenge in France's constitutional council.

Shortly after the vote, lawmakers from right-wing parties said they had already filed a legal challenge with the council.

France's divisive road to marriage equality

New Zealand's parliament famously sang with joy. In France's last week, MPs threw punches at each other at the end of a long and acrimonious debate on the "marriage for all" bill.

One MP was left holding his broken glasses, saying he had been in parliament 30 years and never seen anything like it. The justice minister compared it to a saloon in a spaghetti western.

But the "Demo for All" movement opposing the bill has been vocal and popular. Its demonstrations became a flashpoint for anger at the socialist government of President Francois Hollande.

And one anti-homophobia group said the debate had caused violence against gay couples to triple across the country.

Last Thursday Mr Hollande publicly condemned homophobic attacks, which he blamed on the parliamentary right "justifying violence" with its arguments against the bill.

The day before, four men had attacked staff in a gay bar in the old town of Lille.

"They came to beat up gays – that's exactly how they phrased it," said the bar owner. The same night masked men attacked a gay bar in Bordeaux.

Two weeks ago, the shocking image of the bloodied and bruised face of Wilfred de Bruijn went viral on social media.

"It's the face of homophobia," Mr de Bruijn said under the photo. "Last night [my partner] Olivier and I were badly beaten up just for walking arm in arm."

Socialist MP Slyviane Bulteau said she had received a death threat, and her colleague Hugues Fourage had been told his house would be smashed up.

Fulfilling campaign promises

The legalisation of gay marriage (and adoption by gay couples) was one of Mr Hollande's 60 campaign promises in 2010.

France has had "civil solidarity pacts" (PACs) since 1999, which give couples some legal rights, including tax breaks available to married couples..

But PACS morphed into a kind of "marriage lite" for heterosexuals – by 2009 there were two civil unions for every three marriages, and 95 per cent were between heterosexual couples. Activists argued for full equality in marriage rights for gay couples.

But when the marriage equality bill entered parliament this year it turned into a fortnight-long slanging match, as MPs called one another Nazis, clowns, even "mute carp".

Hundreds of thousands protested in rallies organised by religious and right-wing groups. Their spokeswoman, a comedian and political speechwriter who calls herself "Frigide Barjot" (literally, "frigid loony") was a glamorous, blonde, witty hit on the chat shows, saying the law would "destroy the concept of mother and father".

The message hit a chord in France – still largely religious and conservative, despite its idiosyncratic views on relationships.

Last month the bill's opponents claimed 1.4 million marched down Paris boulevards, though police said it was a quarter that number, and used tear gas to stop them breaking through barriers onto the Champs-Elysees.

At the march, as with another smaller march on Sunday, the signs carried by protesters covered political and economic slogans, suggesting the issue was a flashpoint for broader protests against the government.

"We want jobs rather than stupid laws," one banner said. The crowd chanted "socialist dictatorship!" The radical right has coalesced around a new group calling itself the "French Spring", which talks of a revolution and has declined to condemn political violence.

Mr Hollande has the lowest popularity ratings of any recent French president, as unemployment continues to surge and his anti-tax-fraud minister quit after his secret Swiss bank account was revealed.

Comfort in victory

But despite the resistance, the law's supporters are taking comfort in their victory.

"For the equality of rights, against homophobia, marriage for everyone," tweeted the (gay) mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoe before a pro-marriage equality march on Sunday. He posted a photo taken at the march: a banner saying "our families are more beautiful than your hatred".

The latest polls showed majority support for the right to gay marriage, though majority opposition to adoption by gay couples. The socialists are still in power in the National Assembly, and the bill passed easily.

Elected officials have 60 days to mount a constitutional challenge, but in the meantime the government will put together the regulations to go with the law.

The government predicts the first gay marriage ceremonies will take place in June, with several mayors already jockeying to claim their office will host the first.

with AFP