PARIS (AP) — France will see its first gay weddings within days, after French President Francois Hollande signed a law Saturday authorizing marriage and adoption by same-sex couples and ending months of nationwide protests and wrenching debate.
Hollande's office said he signed the bill Saturday morning, a day after the Constitutional Council struck down a challenge to the law and ruled it in line with France's constitution.
Hollande, a Socialist, had made legalizing gay marriage one of his campaign pledges last year. While polls for years have shown majority support for gay marriage in France, adoption by same-sex couples is more controversial.
The parliamentary debate exposed a deep conservatism and attachment to traditional families in France's rural core that is often eclipsed by and at odds with libertine Paris.
But mostly, it tapped into deep discontent with the Socialist government, largely over Hollande's handling of the economy. Months of anti-gay marriage protests became a flashpoint for frustrations with Hollande, and occasionally degenerated into violence.
In addition, gay rights groups reported a rise in attacks on homosexuals as the parliamentary debate was under way. Protest organizers distanced themselves from the trouble-makers.
The opposition isn't ready to give up. It plans a protest May 26 that aims to parlay the success of the anti-gay marriage movement into a broader anti-Hollande one. Among those expected to attend is Jean-Francois Cope, the leader of the opposition UMP party, riven by divisions and struggling for direction since Nicolas Sarkozy lost the presidency last year.
Hollande warned that he wouldn't accept any disruption of France's first gay marriages.
One couple signed up Saturday to tie the knot on May 29 in the gay-friendly southern French city of Montpellier.
"We're very happy that today we can finally talk of love after all the talk of legislation and political battles," one of the future newlyweds, Vincent Autin, said on France-Info radio.
According to French law, couples must register to marry in city hall and wait at least 10 days before holding a ceremony so that anyone objecting to the union — such as an existing spouse — has time to intervene.
Marketing whizzes are already preparing lesbian and gay cake toppers, his-and-his wedding bands, and other services for France's gay weddings.
Despite the protests, the law passed easily in both houses of parliament, which are dominated by Hollande's Socialists. And the Constitutional Council said, "Marriage as a union between a man and a woman cannot be considered a fundamental principle."
France is the most populous country to have legal gay marriages, and the 14th country worldwide. In the United States, Minnesota became the 12th state in the country to legalize same-sex unions on Tuesday.
In neighboring Belgium, thousands of people took to the confetti-covered streets of Brussels to take part in an annual gay pride march on Saturday. Trucks blasting music and carrying dance floors made their way through cheering crowds. Belgium legalized gay marriage 10 years ago and permitted adoption for same-sex couples seven years ago.