France legalizes same-sex marriage after heated national debate and protests

PARIS — France legalized gay marriage on Tuesday after a wrenching national debate and protests that flooded the streets of Paris. Legions of officers and water cannon stood ready near France’s National Assembly ahead of the final vote, bracing for possible violence on an issue that galvanized the country’s faltering conservative movement.

The measure passed easily in the Socialist-majority Assembly, 331-225, just minutes after the president of the legislative body expelled a disruptive protester in pink, the color adopted by French opponents of gay marriage.

“Only those who love democracy are here,” Claude Bartelone, the Assembly president, said angrily.

In recent weeks, violent attacks against gay couples have spiked and some legislators have received threats — including Bartelone, who got a gunpowder-filled envelope on Monday.

Lawmakers legalized same-sex marriage after months of bruising debate and street protests that brought hundreds of thousands to Paris. 

Christophe Ena/AP

Lawmakers legalized same-sex marriage after months of bruising debate and street protests that brought hundreds of thousands to Paris. 

One of the biggest protests against same-sex marriage drew together hundreds of thousands of people bused in from the French provinces — conservative activists, schoolchildren with their parents, retirees, priests and others. That demonstration ended in blasts of tear gas, as right-wing rabble-rousers, some in masks and hoods, led the charge against police, damaging cars along the Champs-Elysees avenue and making a break for the presidential palace.

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Justice Minister Christiane Taubira told lawmakers that the first weddings could be as soon as June.

“We believe that the first weddings will be beautiful and that they’ll bring a breeze of joy, and that those who are opposed to them today will surely be confounded when they are overcome with the happiness of the newlyweds and the families,” she said.

French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira delivers a speech during the session preceding the vote on the same-sex marriage bill on Tuesday. 

MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images

French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira delivers a speech during the session preceding the vote on the same-sex marriage bill on Tuesday. 

When President Francois Hollande promised to legalize gay marriage, it was seen as relatively uncontroversial. But the issue has become a touchstone as his popularity has sunk to unprecedented lows, largely over France’s ailing economy.

But the most visible face in the fight against gay marriage — a former comedienne who goes by the name of Frigide Barjot — said the movement named “A Protest for Everyone” will continue beyond the law’s passage and possibly field candidates in 2014 municipal elections. She said anyone involved in protest violence would be marginalized, but blamed the government for its failure to listen.

“The violence comes from the way in which this was imposed,” Barjot told France Info radio.

RELATED: ATTACKS ON FRENCH GAYS ON THE RISE

Taubira, center bottom, is applauded as she speaks during the government session. 

CHARLES PLATIAU/Reuters

Taubira, center bottom, is applauded as she speaks during the government session. 

French conservatives, decimated by infighting and the election loss of standard-bearer Nicolas Sarkozy, had found a rallying cause in same-sex marriage. Hoping to keep the issue alive, the conservative UMP party planned to challenge the law in the Constitutional Council.