Gay couple to claim place in French history

They describe it as a victory of love over hate.

And as Vincent Autin, 40, and Bruno Boileau, 30, prepare to take their vows, there is a lot of love – after an awful lot of hate.

A hate that has consumed supposedly liberal France, as the country becomes the 14th to allow same-sex marriage. That moment in history will come around 6pm in the Hotel de Ville in Montpellier, southern France.

It is moment many had feared would never come and others fear will destroy the social fabric of the nation.

Vincent Autin (R) and Bruno Boileau at a press conference on Tuesday Credit: APTN

Just in front of where the grooms will take their vows there is a very large, very imposing photograph of the French president.

It is not altogether suprising. This is Francois Hollande’s most significant piece of social legislation. Yet it has come at a price - 172 hours of tortured parliamentary debate, hundreds of arrests after protests on the streets and a 30 percent rise in homophobic attacks.

A protester taunts riot police during the 'La Manif pour Tous' (Demonstration for All) against same-sex marriage in Paris Credit: REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Support for gay marriage may run just over 50 percent here, but those conservative and religious groups who oppose it are vocal in their condemnation. Just last weekend 150,000 people marched in Paris, leading to 293 arrests.

There is a genuine concern among those laying on today’s service that even in Montpellier - France’s self-proclaimed capital of gay culture - there may be protests.

The mayor, herself a liberal and supporter of the Marriage For All Bill, is said to have received threats after it became known she would officiate at the first service. A big screen that was to broadcast the service has been removed, apparently due to concerns over safety.

The portrait of President Francois Hollande that stands close to where the couple will tie the knot Credit: Reuters

The Bill passed parliament by 331 votes to 225. As it was written into law, the French justice minister was heard to comment that as the weddings began protestors would find themselves moved by the joy of the newlyweds. Today will be the first test of that.

Seven years after meeting online, Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau's marriage has given them a place in their country's history.

Soon they hope to push that country's boundaries a little further when they try to adopt a further right granted to them by the law which now officially recognises their union.

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