France's controversial "marriage for all" bill, which if passed would make France the 12th country in the world to officially legalize same-sex marriage, cleared a major hurdle on Wednesday as the French senate voted to approve its first important article — a major win for French marriage equality advocates.
The 179 to 157 vote came down directly across party lines, with every senator from the majority Socialist Party (PS) voting in favor, and all but five senators from the right-of-center UMP party voting against. President François Hollande, who defeated UMP incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in the country's contested 2012 election, made marriage equality part of his 60-point campaign platform.
A similar version of the bill had previously passed the National Assembly on February 2 in a 329 to 229 vote — though opponents added over 5,000 amendments in what many decried as a stalling tactic. The Senate must now past the rest of the bill's articles — including the hotly-contested proposal to allow same-sex couples the rights to artificial reproduction techniques and adoption — before sending a complete version back to the National Assembly for final approval in May.
"This law is going to extend to all families the protections guaranteed by the institution of marriage," said French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. "This law is going to strengthen the institution of marriage."
UMP Senator Charles Revet was less-than pleased with the outcome of the vote: "Marriage is between a man and a woman with a view to procreation. Two men or two women will never be able to have children!"
The heated debate has driven a social wedge through the country, with 340,000 protesters taking to the Parisian streets in January to rally against marriage equality, followed just two weeks later with 125,000 more rallying in favor. Though officially secular, France is predominantly Catholic, with strong traditional opinions around marriage and family still permeating much of the country.
The rhetoric turned violent when Dutchman Wilfred de Bruijin, a long-time resident of Paris, was punched in the face and beaten unconscious while walking with his boyfriend last Sunday morning; he suffered 5 fractures to the head and face, a lost tooth, and multiple abrasions. De Bruijin later posted a picture of his injuries to his Facebook page with the caption: "Sorry to show you this. It's the face of Homophobia," which quickly went viral.
"It feels like the most violent time in our history," said Michael Bouvard, vice-president of French group SOS Homophobie, which records homophobic attacks. They say they've seen a spike two to three times higher than normal in the past week.
Even so, a recent French Institute of Public Opinion poll shows that 63% of the population now supports the legalization of same sex marriage, with 49% supporting adoption rights for gay couples. If the final bill passes the National Assembly in May, it would add France to the rapidly growing list of countries to have legalized same-sex marriage: the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, and parts of the United States, Mexico and Brazil. Uruguay, New Zealand and Britain are all considering similar legislation.