MONTPELLIER, France (AP) — A gay couple in the southern French city of Montpellier was preparing to make history Wednesday by tying the knot in France's first same-sex marriage.
The ceremony was being held under tight police surveillance — a stark reminder of the months of bruising opposition to the French gay marriage law that was passed earlier this month. Just last Sunday, tens of thousands of people protested fiercely in Paris against the new gay marriage law, protests that ended with riot police shooting tear gas.
But groom Bruno Boileau says he won't let this dampen his big day. He brushed off concerns that the extensive security measures being taken at his wedding to fiance Vincent Autin — in which he plans to walk across Montpellier city hall square to greet revelers — would overshadow their joy.
"It's still our wedding, whatever happens," said Boileau.
"There always are security rules that we have to follow, but we want to walk across the city hall square. We want to dedicate this moment to all those who fought against hatred over the past months," he said.
Helene Mandroux, the mayor of Montpellier, a city with a large and vibrant gay community, will lead the wedding ceremony in the city council. She said the marriage Wednesday was about one simple message: the "same rights for everybody."
"Today, men and women in France will no longer be discriminated against when it comes to their sexual orientation," she added.
Plan to legalize same-sex marriage and allow gay couples to adopt was a liberal cornerstone of Socialist President Francois Hollande's election manifesto last year. It initially looked like a shoo-in for Hollande, since the measures were supported by a majority of the country, and an easy way to break with his conservative predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.
But the issue became a touchstone as Hollande's popularity has sunk to unprecedented lows, largely over France's ailing economy. A political hot potato, it exposed bitter divisions between urban France, where homosexuality is widely accepted, and the Catholic heartland, where conservative attitudes hold sway.
Demonstrations against the law have often spilled into violence.
In Sunday's protest in the French capital, as night fell, several hundred protesters clashed with police, throwing bottles and chasing journalists. Interior Minister Manuel Valls said police arrested some 100 far-right protesters.
Police estimated that 150,000 people took part in the demonstration but march organizers claimed on their Twitter account that more than a million people did.
Meanwhile, in southern France, the prestigious 66th Cannes Film Festival gave the Palme d'Or, its top honor, to "Blue is the Warmest Color: The Life of Adele," a graphic French film about a tender, sensual lesbian romance.
France is the 14th country so far — and the biggest in political and economic weight — to recognize gay marriages.
Thomas Adamson reported from Paris.
Thomas Adamson can be followed at Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP