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France: Tensions rise as marriage debate fast-tracked

BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — Pink News reports that four people have been detained in connection with an attack on a gay bar in the French city of Lille.

According to the report, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls issued a statement, saying that the detainees are accused of intentionally targeting gay customers at the bar, hitting the manager and causing other damage to the premises. 

Increasing tension is being blamed on a decision to fast-track debate on the government's gay marriage bill, which began a second reading of the measure in the lower house of the French parliament yesterday (April 17) with final approval scheduled for April 23. The Senate approved the bill last week.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that several thousand opponents to the bill crammed the streets of Paris in response, carrying banners that read "A father, a mother, it's basic" and criticizing President François Hollande. Police detained about 11 protesters after cars and public property were damaged and police officers and journalists attacked, AFP says.

During yesterday's lower house session, Justice Minister Christiane Taubira said the bill "takes nothing away from them; there is more than one way to live as a couple or as a family."

Bill opponents are promising more demonstrations in the leadup to next week's vote as Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has called for calm.

"These protests have a right to take place, we are in a republic. But calls for violence, calls to hate, must be condemned," Ayrault told media.  

There has been an increasingly pointed tone to the rhetoric of those opposed to the Hollande government's bill, with the country's top Catholic bishop, André Vingt-Trois, warning that the legalization of gay marriage will breed more violence and protest leader Frigide Barjot reportedly saying "Hollande wants blood" and "he’ll get it." She later said she went "a bit far."

A gay couple recently reported that they were attacked as they walked arm-in-arm in Paris. “It’s the face of homophobia," Wilfred de Bruijn wrote in a Facebook post. De Bruijn said he woke up in an ambulance after the attack, "covered in
blood," missing a tooth and with broken bones around his eye.

Gay rights activists blame opposition to the bill for what they say is an uptick in homophobic incidents
since October.  

Anti-gay-marriage group Manif Pour Tous condemned the attack on the couple, saying they are not to blame. "We have said since the beginning that we are not against homosexuals, we are simply against the government’s legislation,”
Manif Pour Tous spokesperson Xavier Bongibault said after the attack on the couple.

If the bill becomes law, which is the likely outcome, another protest is being planned for May 26 to call for its withdrawal and for a referendum on gay marriage, AFP says.

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