France gay marriage: Hollande signs bill into law

File pic of women posing during a march in favour of gay marriage in Paris, 27 January 2013 The first gay wedding can be held on 28 May - 10 days after Mr Hollande signed the bill

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France's president has signed into law a controversial bill making the country the ninth in Europe, and 14th globally, to legalise gay marriage.

On Friday, the Constitutional Council rejected a challenge by the right-wing opposition, clearing the way for Francois Hollande to sign the bill.

He said: "I have taken [the decision]; now it is time to respect the law of the Republic."

The first gay wedding could be held 10 days after the bill's signing.

But Parliamentary Relations Minister Alain Vidalies told French TV he expected the first ceremonies to take place "before 1 July".

Constitutional challenge


Gay groups in France are delighted that the marriage bill has finally become law. They say there are thousands of couples waiting to get married, and thousands of children being brought up in gay households who will now have the full protection of the law.

Opponents are angry and frustrated. They think President Hollande has made gay marriage a personal obsession, because he's failed to make progress on other more pressing issues - like the economy. There's also irritation that the Constitutional Council cleared the text on 17 May - which happens to be World Day Against Homophobia. It suggests, opponents say, that social pressure formed part of the sages' considerations.

Another anti-gay marriage demonstration is planned for 26 May. It could easily be another monster-manif, like the ones earlier this year. This is because opposition to gay marriage has become conflated with all sorts of other anti-government grievances coming from the right. And the atmosphere in the country is particularly volatile.

But in reality the battle is over. Gay weddings will now begin to be held in France. Some on the right will promise a repeal if they get elected, but experience shows that reversing this kind of social change is extremely hard.

Mr Hollande and his ruling Socialist Party have made the legislation their flagship social reform since being elected a year ago.

After a tortured debate, the same-sex marriage and adoption bill was adopted by France's Senate and National Assembly last month.

The bill was quickly challenged on constitutional grounds by the main right-wing opposition UMP party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

But the Constitutional Council ruled on Friday that same-sex marriage "did not run contrary to any constitutional principles," and that it did not infringe on "basic rights or liberties or national sovereignty".

It said the interest of the child would be paramount in adoption cases, cautioning that legalising same-sex adoption would not automatically mean the "right to a child".

Comedian Frigide Barjot, who has become a leading mouthpiece for the anti-gay marriage movement, denounced the ruling as "a provocation" and called for the campaign to continue.

Catholic concerns

Scores of protesters took to the streets of Paris to voice their opposition to the ruling on Friday: previous, occasionally violent, demonstrations against the bill have drawn hundreds of thousands onto the streets.

UMP President Jean-Francois Cope said he regretted the Constitutional Council's decision but would respect it. Another senior UMP figure, Herve Mariton, said the party would come up with alternative proposals in 2017 that were "more respectful of the rights of children".

Demonstrators against gay marriage in Paris, 21 April Thousands joined protest marches against gay marriage, such as this one in Paris on 21 April

The anti-gay marriage lobby, backed by the Catholic Church and conservative opposition, argues the bill will undermine an essential building block of society.

Opinion polls have suggested that around 55-60% of French people support gay marriage, but only about 50% approve of gay adoption.

France is now the 14th country to legalise gay marriage after New Zealand last month.

It is also the ninth country in Europe to allow same-sex marriage after legalisation in the traditionally liberal Netherlands and Scandinavia, but also in strongly Catholic Portugal and Spain. Legislation is also moving through the UK Parliament.

Timeline: Gay marriage in France

  • May 2012: Election of President Hollande, who makes gay marriage his flagship social reform
  • January 2013: At least 340,000 join protests in Paris as National Assembly begins debate on gay marriage bill
  • April: Senate approves bill, two months after the assembly had passed it
  • 17 May: Constitutional Court dismisses legal challenge
  • 18 May: Bill signed into law by President Hollande

But the measure has aroused stronger than expected opposition in France - a country where the Catholic Church was thought to have lost much of its influence over the public.

In January, a protest in Paris against the bill attracted some 340,000 people according to police - one of the biggest public demonstrations in France in decades. Organisers put the figure at 800,000.

Since then, both sides have held regular street protests.

Mr Hollande has been struggling with the lowest popularity ratings of any recent French president, with his promises of economic growth so far failing to bear fruit and unemployment now above 10%.

Map showing countries where same-sex marriage has been approved

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