France's first gay marriage takes place in Montpellier
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France's first gay wedding took place Wednesday in the southern city of Montpellier. Vincent Autin, 40, and Bruno Boileau, 30, said their vows at a City Hall ceremony attended by more than 500 guests, including gay activists and members of the press.
With broad smiles on their faces and no doubt more than a few tears shed by watching friends and family, the happy couple exchanged vows and then, with the simple word “oui” began their lives together as a married couple.
But this was no ordinary wedding, a fact attested to by the flash bulbs of the dozens of photographers who had gathered at the City Hall in Montpellier eager to catch the perfect image of an historic moment – France’s first ever gay marriage.
Shortly after 6pm on Wednesday, Vincent Autin, 40, and Bruno Boileau, 30, became the first homosexual couple in France to tie the knot following the passing of the country’s hugely controversial gay marriage bill earlier this month – a piece of legislation that has proved divisive is this largely Catholic nation and led to a number of fierce and often violent protests.
Montpellier, sometimes referred to as the ‘San Francisco of France’, is known for its liberal, gay-friendly attitude, but the difference in opinion among locals on the streets of the city ahead of the wedding reflected the deep divisions this high profile wedding has sparked across the country.
“All the symbolism is present. Liberty, Equality and Fraternity is written on the walls of the City Hall. It is an acknowledgement of the rights of all citizens. For me, it is an important event,” said one female resident of Montpellier.
However, one man said: “Honestly, the [gay marriage] law could have waited... The government focused on gay marriage in order to simply hide the real misery of France...They would have been better off focusing on unemployment and poverty in France.”
Prior to the wedding, Frigide Barjot, a stand-up comedian who has been a vocal supporter of France’s anti-gay marriage movement, urged opponents of the law to stay away from the ceremony.
However, local authorities still expected the wedding to attract die-hard elements of the anti-gay marriage movement and 100 police officers were put on the wedding’s security detail, with another 80 gendarmes in reserve.
There were reports of a smoke bomb being thrown from outside into the perimeter of the venue, but otherwise the ceremony passed without incident.
‘A triumph of love over hate’
With a portrait of French President François Hollande displayed prominently at her side, Montpellier Mayor Hélène Mandroux officiated the wedding, in which she described the law that legalised gay marriage as “a stage in the modernisation of our country.''
Later, after Mandroux said the words “I now pronounce you united in marriage”, rapturous applause broke out among the audience.
Among those on the high-profile guest list was France’s Minister for Women’s Rights Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who reportedly encouraged by Autin, himself the president of the regional Lesbian and Gay Pride Languedoc-Rousillon organisation, to file the first gay marriage application as the contentious bill was making its way through parliament.
However, prior to the ceremony, Autin insisted the wedding was purely about love, not politics.
“It’s a love marriage and a marriage that will allow us to consider adoption because we want to found a family. This is an extraordinary moment for both of us,” he said.
Later, addressing the ceremony’s attendees, he thanked those who had helped make gay marriage in France a reality.
“My first thoughts are for everyone - men, women, and groups - who fought together alongside us. It's this solidarity which made our marriage today possible,” said Autin.
He added: “The real symbol in all of this is love which has triumphed over hate, and I believe there's nothing more beautiful than love.”
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