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France approves same-sex marriage

The 'marriage for all bill' is passed by Parliament after months of angry debate and street protests. An appeal is promised.

April 23, 2013|By Kim Willsher, Los Angeles Times
  • Protesters in favor of gay marriage demonstrate outside the National Assembly in Paris.
Protesters in favor of gay marriage demonstrate outside the National Assembly… (Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP/Getty…)

PARIS — The French Parliament on Tuesday approved a bill allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt, voting after months of often angry debate and sometimes violent protests in the streets.

Members of the Socialist government chanted "Equality, equality" and stood up to applaud the results of the 331-225 vote in the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament. The center-right opposition party immediately announced its intention to appeal the law.

Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, a strong supporter of the bill, said she was "overcome with emotion." She said the constitutional court would have one month to make a ruling on the appeal. Analysts believe the court is unlikely to block the bill, meaning the first same-sex unions could take place in June.

The vote makes France the ninth nation in Europe and 14th worldwide to allow homosexual marriage.

"I hope people across the country will celebrate this moment," Martin Gaillard, a 31-year-old supporter of gay marriage, told the English-language television service France24.

Even up until the vote, opponents of the bill had hoped to force President Francois Hollande's government to renounce the legislation, which he had pledged during last year's election to see passed.

Opponents submitted numerous amendments and dragged out ill-tempered debates that occasionally lasted through the night. Insults and very nearly punches were thrown as lawmakers from both sides clashed.

Herve Mariton, a member of Parliament with the center-right opposition Union for a Popular Movement, said passing the law was a "triple denial." "This is a denial of democracy, an emotional denial and a moral denial," he said, accusing the government of lighting the fuse of homophobia.

The legislation was approved in the upper house, the Senate, earlier this month. Both houses of Parliament are controlled by the left.

The bill sparked some of the biggest protests in years in France, a traditionally Roman Catholic country. In the last two weeks, riot police have used tear gas against demonstrators and arrested more than 100 people in nightly rallies outside Parliament.

As the vote approached, attacks grew on homosexual couples and gay bars in Paris and other major cities. One of the most disturbing was the beating of Wilfred de Bruijn, a Dutchman who was set upon while walking arm in arm with his partner in the capital.

De Bruijn posted a photograph of his bruised and bloodied head on Facebook after being released from the hospital. "Sorry to show you this. It's the face of homophobia," he wrote.

The figurehead of the opposition to what became known as the "marriage for all bill," an actress calling herself Frigide Barjot — a play on Brigitte Bardot — alleged the attacks were carried out by troublemakers known to the police who had hijacked legitimate demonstrations.

Opponents, backed by the Catholic Church and conservatives, held a large protest outside the National Assembly on Tuesday night, while pro-bill organizations gathered for celebration rallies. Police reinforcements have been brought into the capital and security increased around Parliament and other public buildings, but no clashes were reported.

The bill is widely viewed as the most significant social reform in France since the abolition of the death penalty in 1981.

Laure Pora, from the AIDS awareness group Act Up, told the Guardian newspaper in Britain: "There's an increase in homophobia today in France. It has always existed but it wasn't always expressed so freely. Now the political debate and demonstrations have led to a kind of 'legitimation' of homophobic comments. We're on the street to say we have every right to be here."

Willsher is a special correspondent.

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