France accelerates vote on gay marriage
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After France’s Senate voted Friday to approve a law that would allow gay couples to wed and adopt, the government - in a surprising move – called for a final vote on the bill in the National Assembly next week, much earlier than originally planned.
The French Senate voted Friday to approve a landmark bill granting gay couples the right to marry and adopt, after fierce debate and mass protests from conservatives and religious groups.
The vote, by a show of hands, puts the bill on track to be signed into law within weeks following a second reading and final vote in the National Assembly, where several technical amendments introduced in the Senate are expected to be approved.
In a surprising twist, the ruling Socialists announced Friday that the bill would return to the National Assembly by next Wednesday, April 17 - far earlier than the originally scheduled date of May 20.
Why the hurry?
Following the news, several theories began circulating about why French President François Hollande – currently suffering from low approval ratings and portrayed as largely ineffective in combating France’s economic woes – chose to speed up the process.
“I think his government thinks the debate has already lasted a very long time, and it’s time to wrap it up,” Judith Silberfeld, editor-in-chief of French online LGBT magazine Yagg, told FRANCE24. “I think they also wanted to get the law approved before the next march against marriage equality, planned for May 26.”
Several mass street protests against the law have earned France unflattering headlines abroad and provoked violent incidents both at the demonstrations and throughout the country.
Rights group SOS Homophobie said this week it had registered a 30 percent rise in reports of assaults on homosexuals last year compared to 2011, with a marked surge when debate began in the autumn.
Politicians supporting the bill also reported receiving threatening telephone calls and emails, and being heckled by anti-gay activists at public events.
“The government is also motivated to expedite the process because of the spike in homophobic violence France has seen over the past two or three weeks,” Silberfeld emphasised. “That violence sort of obligates them to precipitate things.”
Opponents of the law have accused the government of seeking to rush the process, with the head of the right-wing UMP's faction in the assembly, Christian Jacob, saying President Francois Hollande was “risking a violent confrontation with the French people” over the bill.
Months of debate and demonstrations
The bill has been largely supported by the ruling Socialists, their allies in the Green Party and the Communists, and opposed by the main opposition UMP and other right-wing and centre-right parties.
Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, who has emerged as a prominent political figure and heroine of the French LGBT movement thanks to her impassioned defence of the bill, hailed the Senate vote. She said it had strengthened French society “by granting the simple recognition of full citizenship to homosexual couples.”
Meanwhile, the head of the Socialists in the Senate, Francois Rebsamen, said: “We are overwhelmed with pride by this vote to move our society forward”.
But opponents slammed the adoption of the bill, with right-wing former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin saying it would cause a “rupture” in society.
France is officially secular but predominantly Catholic, and the debate over gay marriage and adoption has sent hundreds of thousands of people into the streets for pro- and anti-gay marriage protests nationwide.
In January, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators flooded Paris for an anti-gay marriage march, and last month, police were forced to fire tear gas on people protesting the bill and arrest dozens.
Opinion polls have routinely indicated that a majority of French people support gay marriage but that fewer support adoption rights for homosexual couples.
Hollande championed same-sex marriage and adoption during his election campaign last year, and his support for the legislation did not waver throughout the turmoil.
His girlfriend, Valerie Trierweiler, has revealed that the president will be attending the marriages of gay friends once the legislation is on the statute books.
(FRANCE24 with wires)