France became the ninth European country to legalize gay marriage Tuesday, when the country's National Assembly passed a bill on same-sex marriages and adoptions, ending months of bitter and sometimes violent debate.
As lawmakers cheered, France's lower house adopted the "marriage for all" legislation on second reading, with 331 lawmakers voting for the bill and 225 against.
Addressing the lower house after the vote, French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, who described the legislation as beautiful and generous and said she was very emotional, declared that the first same-sex weddings could take place as early as June.
Although passage of the gay marriage bill was largely a foregone conclusion, it has drawn surprisingly strong opposition, with protests gathering tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of people. Many observers believe the demonstrations underscore a broader anger against French President Francois Hollande and his Socialist government.
According to police estimates, about 45,000 people attended one of the final anti-gay-marriage rallies in Paris Sunday. Some brought children and many waved pink banners sporting images of heterosexual families.
One young woman, who gave only her first name, Virginie, said she particularly opposed same-sex adoptions on the grounds that, in her opinion, it poses double burden for the child.
Some of the protests have turned violent in recent weeks and there have been a handful of attacks against gays. Also, the president of the National Assembly received a threatening letter on Monday.
But polls show the majority of French favor gay marriage, and supporters have also turned out in force at their own rallies, including a counter-demonstration Sunday headed by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who announced that he is gay during a 1988 television interview that preceded his mayoral term.
With the vote, France becomes the fourteenth country worldwide to legalize same-sex unions. But opponents haven't given up, warning they will challenge the legislation in France's Constitutional Council and continue to protest next month.