Updated: 11:40 a.m. EDT.
Legions of officers and water cannon stood ready near France’s National Assembly ahead of the final vote, bracing for possible violence on an issue that galvanized the country’s faltering conservative movement.
The measure passed easily in the Socialist-majority Assembly, 331-225, just minutes after the president of the legislative body expelled a disruptive protester in pink, the color adopted by French opponents of gay marriage.
“Only those who love democracy are here,” Claude Bartelone, the Assembly president, said angrily.
In recent weeks, violent attacks against gay couples have spiked and some legislators have received threats — including Bartelone, who got a gunpowder-filled envelope on Monday.
One of the biggest protests against same-sex marriage drew together hundreds of thousands of people bused in from the French provinces — conservative activists, schoolchildren with their parents, retirees, priests and others. That demonstration ended in blasts of tear gas, as right-wing rabble-rousers, some in masks and hoods, led the charge against police, damaging cars along the Champs-Elysees avenue and making a break for the presidential palace.
Justice Minister Christiane Taubira told lawmakers that the first weddings could be as soon as June.
“We believe that the first weddings will be beautiful and that they’ll bring a breeze of joy, and that those who are opposed to them today will surely be confounded when they are overcome with the happiness of the newlyweds and the families,” she said.
France is the 14th country to legalize gay marriage, and Tuesday’s vote comes a week after New Zealand – with very little controversy – allowed same-sex couples to wed.
Other countries that have legalized same-sex marriage are: The Netherlands (2001); Belgium (2003); Spain, Canada (2005); South Africa (2006); Norway (2008); Sweden (2009); Argentina, Iceland, Portugal (2010); Denmark (2012). Lawmakers in Uruguay approved a law earlier this month that President Jose Mujica is expected to sign.
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