The French National Assembly will this afternoon pass a law making France the 14th country in the world to recognise same-sex marriage. The vote is considered the most important social reform in France since the abolition of the death penalty in 1981.
Right-wing rejection of same-sex marriage has monopolised French politics for six months. The left argues that marriage for all, a campaign promise by President François Hollande, is a question of equality and a basic human right. The right accuses Hollande of promoting the law to distract attention from the parlous economy.
The debate has been marked by an undercurrent of violence. A package containing gun powder and ammunition was sent to the speaker of the National Assembly, Claude Bartolone, his office said yesterday.
Conservatives have been particularly angered by the provision legalising adoption by homosexual couples. Opponents say it threatens the traditional family and will make it impossible to establish filiation. The conservative deputy Philippe Cochet shouted at socialists in the National Assembly: “What you are doing is a wound that will not heal if the law is passed. It’s ignominious. You are murdering children!”
A coalition of right-wing groups, including the mainstream UMP, the far-right National Front and conservative Catholics have staged frequent demonstrations under the label La Manif Pour Tous (Demonstration For All). Extreme right-wing fringe groups have resorted to violence on the margins of the demonstrations.
On Sunday officials from the National Front marched alongside UMP politicians. Socialist party leader Harlem Désir accused the UMP of exploiting opposition to same-sex marriage as “a sort of founding act between the right and extreme right”. This new alliance between the right and far right augurs ill for Mr Hollande in next year’s municipal and European elections.
Opponents say they are staging a reverse May 1968 revolution. The fundamentalist Catholic politician Christine Boutin compares the movement to Solidarnosc, the Polish trade union that resisted communist rule.
Gay rights groups say acts of homophobia have increased 30 per cent over the past six months. Gay bars were attacked in Lille and Bordeaux last week.
Early on Saturday morning, a gay couple were followed as they left a nightclub in Nice. “Three guys called after us, saying, ‘Hey, gays!’
" Raphael Leclerc (24) told Var-Matin newspaper. He and his boyfriend were pushed to the ground and kicked in the head.
Mr Leclerc, like Wilfred de Bruijn, a Dutch citizen who was horribly disfigured when he was beaten up with his boyfriend in Paris this month, showed his injuries on Facebook. “Here is the face of homophobia,” Mr de Bruijn wrote.
Several thousand people attended a rally against homophobia on the Place de la Bastille on Sunday. Far more participated in the last anti-same-sex marriage march before passage of the law, chanting “Hollande, resign!” and “Hollande, we don’t want your law!” Police estimated their numbers at 45,000; the organisers said 270,000.
Each demonstration has been followed by a dispute over numbers. Henri Guaino, a UMP deputy and former speechwriter for Sarkozy, called Sunday's police estimate "a ridiculous, mendacious figure" and warned that "if [the government] continues to hold demonstrators in contempt, this will end badly."
The April 19th final reading of the text nearly led to a brawl in the National Assembly. It was like a bunker during the overnight session, surrounded by riot police and demonstrators against same-sex marriage, 74 of whom were arrested. It was almost 1am when a UMP deputy held up the ballet slipper-style shoe of a teenage demonstrator whom he said had been “dragged away” by riot police.
A civil servant sitting behind the justice minister chuckled, whereupon conservative deputies rushed towards socialists benches, shouting, “The LGBT lobby is not in power!” The justice minister fled. An usher who struggled to keep the sides apart was hit. A right-wing deputy’s glasses were broken.
Mr Hollande hopes opposition will die down once the law passes. But the right is demanding a referendum and says it will appeal to the constitutional council. More demonstrations are scheduled, in the hope of forcing the government to suspend the law. There is a precedent: former president Jacques Chirac was forced to suspend a law creating low-wage jobs for youths following three months of demonstrations in 2006.