Activists celebrate France’s first gay wedding amid mass protests


Vincent Autin, center, and Bruno Boileau, right, speak with Montpellier mayor Helene Mandroux during their civil wedding at Montpellier City Hall on May 29. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

Two French activists exchanged vows Wednesday in what was apparently the first gay wedding under the country's new law legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption. Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau were married in Montpellier, a city in southern France with a large gay community. Autin and Boileau had told Agence France-Presse that theirs would be a public wedding and "an occasion for everyone."

The ceremony was a kind of counter-protest to a massive anti-gay marriage demonstration in Paris over the weekend, which police said drew 150,000 people. Hundreds of thousands more joined similar protests in the French capital in January and again in March.

Although it seems unlikely that the gay marriage law, signed earlier this month, will be repealed, opponents haven't retreated, Reuters reports; on the contrary, protesters have moved to oppose assisted procreation and surrogate motherhood for gay couples.

For foreigners who see France as socially liberal, the intensity of the opposition is confusing. As The Economist notes, France has long had a reputation for progressive social tendencies: President Francois Hollande is not married to his girlfriend, abortion has been legal since 1975, Plan B is free to all 15- to 18-year-olds, and even among straight French couples, civil unions are more popular than traditional marriages.

But there are indications that gay marriage isn't all that is at stak in the protests -- there are probably political motives as well. Hollande is unpopular in France, with a poll conducted last week putting his approval rating at 29 percent. Several conservative politicians, including opposition party leader Jean-Francois Cope, marched in the demonstrations personally and encouraged protesters to vote in the next round of municipal elections.

John Laughland, writing for the British conservative magazine The Spectator, argues that the protests reveal dissatisfaction with the political system in France in general, and that the controversy over gay marriage is just the last straw. It is perhaps indicative that the movement has included such disparate leadership as far-right militants, provocative comediennes and Catholic priests.

We won't really know which way the political winds in France are blowing until municipal elections next year, when conservative parties hope the momentum from these protests will give them an advantage. Until then, Autin and Boileau told The Telegraph they are planning "to turn the page" -- but their conservative opponents are hoping the controversy will remain fresh in voters' minds.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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Caitlin Dewey · May 29, 2013