France to sign gay marriage bill into law on Saturday
French President Francois Hollande was set to sign a gay marriage and adoption bill into law Saturday after it was cleared by the Constitutional Council which turned down a challenge by the right-wing opposition.
Hollande, who had made "marriage for all" a key election pledge, made the announcement saying it was "now time to respect the law and the Republic" after the top French institution cleared the bill.
The first gay wedding can be held 10 days after Hollande signs it into law.
On Saturday, France will become the 14th country to legalise same-sex marriage, joining a club of eight other European nations -- the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland and Denmark.
The bill was approved on April 23 by parliament but was immediately challenged on constitutional grounds by the main right-wing opposition UMP party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
The UMP had opposed what it said was a fast-track voting procedure and argued that gay marriage represented such a fundamental change that more than a law is required.
The party has not made clear whether it would seek to repeal the law if it comes to power. French media have reported that some in the party believe that would not be legally possible.
A statement by the Council said same-sex marriage "did not run contrary to any constitutional principles," and that it did not infringe "basic rights or liberties or national sovereignty."
It however, said that gay adoption did not automatically mean the "right to a child" and that the "interest of the child" would be the overriding factor in such cases.
Harlem Desir, leader of Hollande's ruling Socialist party, said: "It's a victory for the French republic and for equality. It's a day of great pride for the Socialists."
But a Parisian socialite who goes by the name of Frigide Barjot and has become the public face of the movement opposing gay marriage said the council's go-ahead was a "provocation," adding that France was trying to change "civilisation."
Barjot whose assumed name is a play on the name of French film star Brigitte Bardot, a sex symbol in the 1960s, and translates as Frigid Loony told AFP: "It's an institutional revolution," adding: "We are in the process of changing civilisation."
The issue of gay marriage has divided France, which is officially secular but overwhelmingly Catholic, with street protests against the bill drawing hundreds of thousands and often sparking violence.
The reform initially seemed to enjoy solid majority backing among French voters. But recent polls have suggested the opposition campaign has shifted opinion to the extent that the electorate is now fairly evenly split on both gay marriage and adoption.
France's INSEE statistics agency says about 200,000 people declared themselves as living in same-sex couples in a 2011 study.
The clearance of the bill came on the International Day Against Homophobia and coincided with the release of a European Union report which said that two-thirds of Europe's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are still afraid to show their sexuality in public.
It said a quarter have been victims of physical or verbal attacks. The online survey, described as the largest of its kind, questioned around 93,000 people in the European Union's 27 member states plus Croatia, which is to join the bloc in July.
© 2013 AFP