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France legalizes gay marriage

PARIS – France legalized gay marriage on Tuesday after a wrenching national debate that exposed deep social conservatism in the nation’s heartland and triggered huge protests in Paris from both sides of the divide.

Legions of officers with water cannon braced outside the National Assembly for possible violence on an issue that galvanized the country’s faltering right.

The measure passed easily in the Socialist-majority Assembly, 331-225, just minutes after the president of the legislative body expelled a disruptive protester in pink, the color adopted by French opponents of gay marriage.

“Only those who love democracy are here,” Claude Bartelone, the Assembly president, said angrily.

In recent weeks, violent attacks against gay couples have spiked and some legislators have received threats – including Bartelone, who got a gunpowder-filled envelope on Monday.

One of the biggest protests against same-sex marriage drew together hundreds of thousands of people bused in from the French provinces – conservative activists, schoolchildren with their parents, retirees, priests and others. 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 along the Champs-Elysees avenue and making a break for the presidential palace.

Justice Minister Christiane Taubira told lawmakers that the first weddings could be as soon as June.

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