By Tatiana Tissot
Vincent Autin and his fiance Bruno said yes. The first same-sex marriage was celebrated yesterday shortly before 6 pm in France, at Montpellier’s town hall.
After months of debates and demonstrations, during which strong homophobic ideas were heard, it was a relief for the marriage equality advocates to see the law become a reality.
Over 250 reporters attended this historic and symbolic event. CNN, Japanese and Chinese televisions broadcasted the marriage. The grooms were being flashed by photographers at every turn.
Like in any marriage, love and emotion could be seen in the eyes of the two men, both sporting black tuxedos. The crowd applauded joyfully as the pair shared their first kiss as a married couple. Overcome with tears, the town hall officer who pronounced their marriage couldn’t finish the end of her sentence.
However, this was not a happy day in the eyes of everyone in France: Catholic opponents to same-sex marriages, (in Montpellier called “les Veilleurs”) had organized a sitting on the evening before the ceremony.
This self-claimed “non-violent” demonstration lit candles and occupied public spaces to “defend the right of children to grow in the complementary love of a mother and a father.” Less than 50 people participated.
No extremist group attempted to disrupt the marriage. Regardless, after the violent riots that occurred in Paris after the last anti-gay marriage demonstration on Sunday, Montpellier’s authorities took strong security measures to protect this wedding.
Over 150 policemen were ready to intervene and the surroundings of the town hall were well guarded. Each guest was scanned with a metal detector and items such as plastic bottles were not permitted.
During the ceremony, only one incident happened, which was hardly noticed inside the building. A small group of opponents managed to find their way to the media vans, and shot a few smoke bombs around the town hall. They were quickly chased or caught by the police, with the help of an Alsacian.
Among the 600 people – family, friends and local personalities – who attended the ceremony, French minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem was present. She insisted on being there “as a friend”. It was her who offered Vincent and Bruno to become the first married homosexual couple of France, last autumn.
The fact that the marriage took place in Montpellier, a gay-friendly city in the South of France, is also an important symbol for the town and its Mayor, Helene Mandroux. This politician had made efforts for same-sex marriage in 2009, and also symbolically wed two men in early 2011.
“It is an historic time for our country, and our Republic as we join the 13 other countries in the world which celebrate same-sex marriage ,” she said during a 20-minute-long speech.
“Your personal story, Vincent and Bruno, meets the history of a country and a society which goes forward, and struggles against discriminations.”
She added that President François Hollande’s campaign promise #31 was today fulfilled, but deplored the “hatred” that the idea of a marriage available for everyone revealed. “What happened in our country?” she asked.
During his own speech, Vincent Autin, who is also the head of the local Gay Pride, thanked minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and associations for their support, and celebrated “love”. He and Bruno have been a couple for nearly 7 years. They now wish to start a family by adopting a child.
Outside of the town hall, hundreds of people came to applause the newlyweds.
“I’m there for the marriage, and at the same time it is a political act. At last, the first gay marriage is taking place in France!” a young woman, Melanie, told 429Magazine.
“For years, I’ve seen Vincent struggle for gays right. I don’t know him personally, but I’m there to support him, and also the mayor Helene Mandroux. Today, I’m very proud of my city!”
She added that the ceremony was very moving, even though she could only hear it. The sound was transmitted to the crowd outside, and they shouted and applauded at every sentence.
After a final word with the press, the newly married couple and their guests spent the rest of the evening away from cameras.
Many LGBT people of the region will celebrate this symbolic step towards equality on Saturday, as the Lesbian and Gay Pride is taking place in the streets of Montpellier. Two more same-sex marriages are already scheduled to take place at City Hall.