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France to hold first gay wedding amid tight security


France's first same-sex marriage will take place on Wednesday in the southern French city of Montpellier, which has a vibrant gay community that has drawn comparisons with California's gay hub of San Francisco.


France was gearing up for its first official same-sex marriage on Wednesday with both party-goers and protesters headed to Montpellier, a southern city with a vibrant gay community that has been compared with California's gay hub of San Francisco.

The French authorities said between 50 and 100 police officers had been deployed to the area and some 80 troops put on standby.

Grooms Vincent Aubin (above left) and Bruno Boileau (right) are to exchange vows at 5:30pm local time. The French couple say they are well aware of the milestone that will be marked with their upcoming ceremony, and want it to be a celebration for all.

"We will make this wedding an occasion for everyone," Aubin told AFP. "It will be public, open to all activists, to the heads of French and international [gay rights] groups, to the press."

"There will also be moments of love," he added.

For France, it will be a high-profile symbol of changing social mores, won after months of fierce – and sometimes violent – opposition from conservative groups.

Autin, 40, a gay activist and the head of a Montpellier public relations firm, and Bruno Boileau, 30, a government worker, have been together for more than five years.

The two men said that, as significant as their wedding would be, it was just one step towards a bigger goal: to start a family by adopting a child.

'Mentalities have to change'

"The law will allow that, but we're very aware that we won't have the child we both want right away," Autin said. "Mentalities have to change. And of course the path to adoption is long, even for heterosexuals."

"Everything won't get done from one day to the next," Boileau agreed.

France's decision to become the fourteenth country to legalise same-sex marriage has often met with determined protests that have brought hundreds of thousands into the streets.

Violence erupted at a large demonstration against gay marriage in the streets of Paris on Sunday, with protesters throwing bottles and police firing teargas.

Other protests have taken place in the months leading up to the vote, including a rally of more than 300,000 in the capital in March.

Montpellier's mayor, Helene Mandroux of the Socialist Party, sees the shift to gay marriage as overdue – and a boon for her town, which was recently named by gay magazine "Tetu" as the most gay-friendly place in France.

It was partly for that reason that government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem in September promised Mandroux that Montpellier would celebrate the country's first gay marriage.

Aubin and Boileau said they were keenly aware of the vehement protests ahead of the gay marriage vote, seeing them as attacks on themselves and their own goals.

"Our identity, our capacity to love, to raise children were being challenged," Aubin said.

He added that he considered the anti-gay protesters to be standing against French principles.

"We are the ones defending the values of the republic," Aubin said. "And we are also fighting for the children of some of these opponents who, tomorrow, will discover they are homosexual."

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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