Vincent and Bruno to wed in France's first gay marriage

29th May 2013, Comments 0 comments

"Overwhelmingly impatient, overwhelmingly happy!" -- Vincent and Bruno were getting ready to tie the knot Wednesday in France's first official gay marriage, after months of sometimes violent protests.

The mayor of the southern city of Montpellier will pronounce Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau "husband and husband" later in the day in the presence of hundreds of guests, under the watchful eye of police and the world's media.

"One day before we say 'YES'! Overwhelmingly impatient, overwhelmingly happy!" Autin, 40, said Tuesday on his Twitter account of his marriage to Boileau, his 30-year-old boyfriend of nearly seven years.

The high-profile ceremony, which will also be attended by the Socialist government's spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, is the apex of months of huge divisions in France over a bill allowing same-sex marriage and adoption.

The bill was finally signed into law on May 18 to the applause of supporters, but opponents have vowed to fight on and tens of thousands converged on Paris Sunday for a demonstration that ended in violence.

They have also pledged to protest at the marriage in Montpellier -- known as the "French San Francisco" for its gay-friendly reputation -- and up to 100 police have been called in, with another 80 in reserve.

Authorities in Montpellier had initially planned to broadcast the civil marriage on big screens in the city centre, but abandoned the idea due to security fears.

On Wednesday, they were putting the final touches to the ceremony, abandoning plans to hold it in the town hall's too-small wedding room and deciding to use the much larger reception hall.

Two chairs had been placed in front of where Mayor Helene Mandroux will be standing, flanked to her right by a portrait of President Francois Hollande and to her left by four flags, including the French and EU ones.

Some 500 guests are expected to attend, as are more than 230 journalists and technicians working for over 100 media outlets from around the world, with last-ditch accreditation demands earlier in the week from China and Ukraine.

"We are the 14th country to recognise gay marriage," Mandroux said earlier.

"If there are so many journalists maybe it is because they were surprised by the reaction of opponents. They were astonished that there could be such violence in the country of human rights."

She said she would give a speech during the ceremony addressing the fact that "for weeks there has been a phenomenon of intolerance" in France.

The marriage has caused consternation among some opponents of the law, with the conservative Catholic group Civitas saying it was opening up "Pandora's box".

"Prisoners of a logic that goes against nature, how can lawmakers refuse polygamous or incestuous marriage between consenting adults for long?" Alain Escada, president of Civitas, decried in a statement.

Barring the media, guests at the ceremony are just friends and family of the couple, Autin has said, and Vallaud-Belkacem herself is attending as a private citizen and not as a state representative.

Alice Nkom, a prominent Cameroonian lawyer who has long campaigned for gay rights in her country and was cited as one of "the eight most fascinating Africans in 2012" by the New Yorker magazine, will also be present.

Though officially a secular republic, France is overwhelmingly Catholic, and the issue of gay adoption and marriage -- a key campaign pledge of Hollande -- sparked a deeply divisive debate.

Opposition to the measure started as a grassroots campaign backed by the influential Roman Catholic Church. The rightwing opposition then jumped into the fray and the movement ballooned.

Supporters and opponents of the bill began protesting last autumn when it was adopted by the cabinet, and continued to hold regular demonstrations throughout the country as it made its way through parliament.

Sunday's protest happened on the same day as the sexually graphic lesbian love story "Blue is the Warmest Colour" won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, in what some have seen as a subtle wink to the controversy.

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© 2013 AFP

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