France’s first gay marriage passes off peacefully

Couple hope wedding will draw a line under protests that have divided country

Vincent Aubin (left) and Bruno Boileau  hold hands at their wedding ceremony at the city hall in Montpellier, today. The two men are the first same-sex couple to marry in France under a reform which has stoked some of the ugliest protests in the country in decades. Photograph: Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters

Vincent Aubin (left) and Bruno Boileau hold hands at their wedding ceremony at the city hall in Montpellier, today. The two men are the first same-sex couple to marry in France under a reform which has stoked some of the ugliest protests in the country in decades. Photograph: Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters

 

Two men married each other in the southern French city of Montpellier this afternoon, in the first same-sex wedding in a country rocked by protests for and against the reform.

Vincent Aubin and Bruno Boileau exchanged vows in the futuristic city hall before the mayor, relatives, friends and media as police stood guard outside to ensure the ceremony was not disrupted.

“It‘s a great pleasure for me to declare you married by law,“ said Montpellier‘s left-wing Mayor Helene Mandroux, as the couple embraced to a huge cheer from an audience of about 500.

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of opponents of gay marriage flooded Paris in a rally that ended in clashes between police and hardliners. But protesters stayed away from the wedding in Montpellier, France‘s self-proclaimed most gay-friendly city.

At 5.30pm in the southern French city of Montpellier, which describes itself as France’s most gay-friendly place, after months of divisive national wrangling, numerous street demonstrations, 172 hours of heated parliamentary debate, and a warning of a 30 per cent rise in homophobic acts, Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau became the first same-sex couple to marry in France.

After the gay marriage and adoption law was passed 10 days ago, Mr Autin, 40, a gay rights activist who works for the Montpellier tourist office, and Mr Boileau, 30, a civil servant, quickly published the banns, booked the outfits, organised the rings, the DJ, the car and the childcare for guests bringing children.

They had long planned to be the first couple to marry when France became the 14th country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage - the key social reform of the Socialist Francois Hollande’s presidency. Last September, the women’s minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, on a political visit to Montpellier, had asked Mr Autin if he wanted to be the first groom. He immediately called Mr Boileau who instantly said yes. The couple had been living together for seven years.

Mr Autin and Mr Boileau met online in 2006 on a fan site dedicated to the pop singer Christophe Willem, who had emerged from the TV show La Nouvelle Star, an equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent. Some of the fans on the site agreed to meet up in Paris, and Mr Autin and Mr Boileau met and fell in love.

Autin was a long-time gay rights campaigner in Montpellier. Mr Boileau, who lived in Essonne, outside Paris, had not been out with a man before. He immediately came out to his parents, a former police officer and retirement home worker in rural north-west France, who were delighted he was happy. Mr Autin’s father died when he was 17 and he never had a chance to tell him he was gay. He told his mother he was gay when he was 16 and since then she has been a regular feature at gay pride, lobbying for the parents of gay children. During the demonstrations in favour of same-sex marriage, she carried a placard: “Proud to be mother to a gay son.”

Mr Boileau told Le Point that having a marriage in the media spotlight “might seem intimidating” but he added: “We try to always keep in our spirit the end aim, which is equality for all, that everyone can marry in their town.”

Ms Mandroux, the mayor, told the Nouvel Observateur the marriage was “not a political act. Through the union of Vincent and Bruno, we’re living a major advance for society. A major discrimination is disappearing. As a doctor by profession, I’ve always felt that to be discriminated against because of sexual orientation was unacceptable. Vincent Autin says it’s the victory of love over hate, and I can only agree.”

- Guardian News & Media/Reuters