Passions flare ahead of France’s first gay marriage
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France's first gay marriage will take place in the southern city of Montpellier on Wednesday, but the joyous occasion risked being undermined by the months of controversy that have surrounded the issue of same-sex unions.
The first gay wedding in France on Wednesday will be anything but a private and quiet affair. Echoing months of acrimonious debate over a same-sex marriage law that was approved by lawmakers in April, the historic nuptials were set to feature partisan politics, security concerns and frenzied media coverage.
The civil ceremony that will unite Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau was moved to a special room in Montpellier’s City Hall to accommodate the more than 500 guests – less than half of whom were actually family or friends of the couple.
Scheduled to start at 5:30pm, the wedding will be presided by Montpellier mayor Hélène Mandroux, a Socialist, and will be broadcast live on the city government’s website.
Sights set on Montpellier
Government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem was among those on the high-profile guest list, which was expected to include a slew of gay rights leaders and activists who flocked to the southern French city to be part of the occasion.
A Mediterranean city that boasts a vibrant university student life, Montpellier is considered the country’s most gay-friendly town, sometimes referred to as the “San Francisco of France.”
Autin, one of the two grooms, is himself the president of the regional Lesbian and Gay Pride Languedoc-Rousillon organisation, and was encouraged by Vallaud-Belkacem to file the first gay marriage application as the contentious bill was making its way through parliament.
Vallaud-Belkacem, who reportedly had her sights set on making Montpellier the site of France’s first same-sex wedding, said she would be participating in an unofficial capacity.
Riot police on standby
Frigide Barjot, a stand-up comedian who has led France’s anti-gay marriage movement, has urged opponents of the law to stay away from Wednesday’s wedding.
But organisers and local police were taking no chances, beefing up security around the mayor’s office and keeping riot police on standby. Up to 100 police officers were put on the wedding’s security detail, with another 80 gendarmes ready to back them up, according to the local police prefect’s office.
Last week, a far-right critic of gay marriage shot himself dead at the altar of Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral in part to protest of the law’s passing, and on Sunday hundreds of thousands marched in the capital to demand the its repeal.
Protesters have hurled bricks, bottles and firecrackers during marches, targeting members of the media and clashing with police as the mainstream movement struggled to contain more hard-line members.
Some pledged to meet Vallaud-Belkacem with a hostile reception upon her arrival at the airport.
Another challenge for organisers and city government officials was how to deal with the legions of journalists that were descending on Montpellier to cover the wedding.
The press office said that as of Tuesday evening they were expecting more than 230 journalists and technicians from 115 different news outlets from around the world. Requests for accreditation have come from Britain, the United States, China, Japan and at least a dozen other countries.
Seventy-two seats have been reserved for journalists in the hall where the wedding will take place, with an impromptu press room set up to contain the remaining members of the media.