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France holds its first gay wedding to make history

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France holds its first gay wedding to make history
The Town Hall in Montpellier which is hosting the first gay wedding in France. Photo Gerard Julien/AFP
09:42 CEST+02:00
There will be a heavy police presence in the French city of Montpellier on Wednesday, which is set to host France’s first gay wedding. Government ministers and the world's media will also be on hand to witness the historic event.

Not many couples have to count dozens of riot police among their wedding guests but unfortunately that will have be the case for Vincent Autin, 40 and Bruno Boileau, 30, who are set to make history in France later on Wednesday.

The pair will become the first gay couple to legally marry in France when they tie the knot at the Town Hall in the French Riviera city of Montpellier.

After recent mass street protests against gay marriage ended in violence, French police are taking no chances and will ensure a tight security presence around the ceremony.

Between 50 to 100 officers will be on duty in Montpellier, with a unit of 80 riot police on hand to provide reinforcements.

“This is an exceptional event, but we want everything to go as normally as possible,” said the prefect of police, Frédéric Loiseau.

Plans to broadcast the marriage on a big screen outside the Town Hall have been scrapped because of security fears, but the couple will be able to walk out on the steps to greet well wishers, as is tradition.

“We do not want to put any coercive measures in place, We want it to be normal,” Loiseau said.

The police chief said “no specific threat” had been received but that the security measures were in response to violence that has followed protests against the legalization of gay marriage.

Some opponents of gay marriage have already suggested they will show up in Montpellier to protest because “the newlyweds had made their marriage a political act”.

France’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls has also been forced to issue stern warnings against those opponents who might seek to disrupt the first same-sex unions that will take place across the country in the coming days.

“It is unacceptable that any individual should come to target those who are celebrating an important moment in their lives,” Valls said.

“The first marriages should take place in peace and serenity, because it should be a time of happiness. This is the law, this is democracy,” Valls added.

The happy couple Autin and Boileau will exchange vows in Montpellier at 17:30 local time in the presence of hundreds of guests.

Among them is expected to be the Socialist government's spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who last month shared with The Local the government's determination to "see gay marriage through to the end".

Vallaud-Belkacem said she was attending the ceremony as a private citizen and not a state representative, after the government backed away from sending officials fearing it would be accused of politicizing the event. 

International media have been converging on Montpellier - known as the "French San Francisco" for its gay-friendly reputation - and Mayor Hélène Mandroux, who will preside over the ceremony, said she was surprised by the interest.

In all 130 journalists will have been accredited for the event, including CNN and Al Jazeera. There will also be 200 friends and family, accompanied by another 300 specially-invited guests.

"We are the 14th country to recognize gay marriage," Mandroux said. "If there are so many journalists maybe it's 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.

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