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Clashes and celebrations after gay marriage vote

The Local/AFP · 24 Apr 2013, 11:45

Published: 24 Apr 2013 08:39 GMT+02:00
Updated: 24 Apr 2013 11:45 GMT+02:00

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French President François Hollande appealed for opponents of same-sex unions to respect Tuesday's parliamentary vote that saw gay marriage become legal in France.

Opponents of gay marriage in France were involved in violent clashes with police on the streets of Paris on Tuesday hours after the French parliament had made history by voting same-sex unions into law.

Speaking on Wednesday, Hollande called for "appeasement", "understanding" and "respect", saying it was time for the country to move on to more pressing matters.

"Today more than ever the country must rally behind what is expected by many of our countrymen: jobs, recovery and confidence," Hollande told journalists after a cabinet meeting.

"It's time to focus on the essential: the economic success of our country and social cohesion," the president said.

On Tuesday thousands of riot police had been drafted in to seal off the National Assembly as deputies in the lower house cast their votes after the second reading of the bill. There were minor scuffles as gay marriage supporters attempted to access Rue Aristide Briand, to the east of the assembly building, before riot police put a barrier in place to block entry.

Photo: The Local

After France became the 14th country to vote gay marriage into law, angry anti-gay marriage protesters rallied not far from the parliament.

Along their route towards Place des Invalides, the protesters furiously booed President Hollande and the bill's architects. One marcher, 41-year-old Nicolas, from outside Paris, told The Local: "I'm scandalized by this. By the attitude of the government, who have completely ignored more than one million protesters."

Despite the requests of organizers that marchers disperse peacefully, a hard core group of around 500 refused to leave the Invalides.

Their anger soon boiled over as bottles and firecrackers were hurled at the riot police, who had blocked off a street leading to the parliament.

One officer was taken to hospital with a head wound after being hit by a brick. “The clashes were extremely violent,” one officer told French media.

Police, who responded with tear gas, made 12 arrests. The protesters also turned their ire on journalists in the vicinity, shouting “scumbags" and “collaborators” at the members of the press. At one point a mob of masked protesters chased a group of journalists down the street and a photographer from AFP was sprayed with tear gas.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls later said those arrested were linked to far-right organizations.

There were also violent clashes in the city of Lyon, where anti-gay marriage protesters took to the streets to express their anger. Police said they had made 44 arrests.

Opponents of the law, who have held largely peaceful protests over recent months, have vowed not to give up their campaign.

“If some people think that it’s over, we’ll show them that it is not finished,” Manif pour Tous (Demo for Alll) leader Frigide Barjot told the crowd. “I solemnly ask the president to submit the bill to a referendum. This law is not legitimate.”

There were contrasting scenes across town where supporters of gay marriage celebrated the passing of the law in Place Baudoyer, in Paris’s gay quarter the Marais.

Jennifer, 23, who comes from Paris and is gay, told The Local, “I feel great, I’m delighted. I feel more free now.”

“I want to get married some day, and raise a ‘normal’ family, so this is very important,” she added, amid spontaneous cheering on Rue du Bourg Tibourg.

Louis, 19, from the Lyon area, said: “After all this turmoil, I feel so much more trust in the rest of society now.”

A gay marriage supporter celebrates as news of the vote spread to the crowds assembled outside the National Assembly. Photo: The Local

Several politicians including Women’s Rights Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, who himself is gay, joined the celebrations.

Story continues below…

Nicolas Gougain, a spokesman for Inter-LGBT, France's leading gay rights group, said the law was a victory for equality and democracy.

"This law takes no rights away from anyone, it only grants rights to others. This is liberation after years of fighting for equality."

Earlier on Tuesday, Wilfred de Bruijn, a gay man badly beaten along with his boyfriend in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, earlier this month, was in a content but circumspect mood.

"A law doesn't make society change, and there's still a  lot of work to be done, but this is very good news. We're very happy about it," he said, standing with his boyfriend on Boulevard Saint-Germain, opposite the National Assembly.

Wilfred de Bruijn: Left, after his beating on April 7th, and celebrating (far right) the legalization of gay marriage, with his boyfriend, on April 23rd. Photos: W. de Bruijn/The Local

Soon after the law was voted through, lawmakers from right-wing parties filed a legal challenge with the constitutional council, the country’s highest legal body.

The council now has a month to make a ruling, but the government expressed confidence that the constitutional challenge would be dismissed.

The Local/AFP (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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