France Legalizes Gay Marriage Despite Controversy, Protests

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France legalized gay marriage nationally on Tuesday following a wrenching national debate and protests that flooded the streets of Paris in recent days.

France Protests

Legions of police officers and water cannons stood ready near France's National Assembly ahead of the final vote, bracing for any possible violence.

The measure passed easily in the Socialist-majority Assembly, 331-225, but nevertheless galvanized the country's conservative political faction.

In recent weeks, violent attacks against gay couples have spiked and some legislators even received threats, while protesters stepped up demonstrations.

One of the biggest protests against same-sex marriage in Paris drew together hundreds of thousands of people bused in from the French provinces.

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.

Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, in any case, told lawmakers that with the measure passing today, the first same-sex weddings could come in 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.

When President Francois Hollande first promised to legalize gay marriage, it was seen as relatively uncontroversial ... but the climate quickly changed.

However, the issue has become a touchstone in recent weeks as his popularity has sunk to unprecedented lows, largely over France's ailing economy.

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