A gay marriage bill has been passed by the French senate, after more than a week of intense and sometimes acrimonious debate.

The bill opening marriage to gay couples will now return to the National Assembly for a second reading - which is seen as a technicality as MPs already approved the move on February 12.

On Wednesday, ahead of the Senate vote, about 5,000 people took part in a protest in Paris to highlight an increase in homophobic attacks.

Gay rights activists have said reports of verbal and physical assaults on gays have surged amid rabid debate over the same-sex marriage bill.

Elizabeth Ronzier, head of SOS homophobie, said there had been a 30% rise in reports of homophobic and transphobic assaults last year compared to 2011. Reports are said to have noticeably surged when the debate began in the autumn.

"And in the two months to the end of February this year, we received the same amount of testimonies that we would normally get over a period of six months," she said.

The shocking photo of, Wilfred de Bruijn, who suffered a horrific homophobic attack in Paris, has been used as an emblem for gay rights in France and has come to symbolise the end to five months of bitterly divisive protests.

The anti-gay marriage opposition, supported by the Catholic Church, has already staged marches in the French capital.

During the Senate debate, UMP Senator Charles Revet said: "Marriage is between a man and a woman with a view to procreation. Two men or two women will never be able to have children"

Support for the same-sex marriage bill has been led by president Francois Hollande’s Socialist party. Some advocates for the bill have claimed they have been threatened by far-right opponents of the legislation. Socialist senator Esther Benbassa has received threatening phone calls, emails and letters for days and also had her car vandalised.

In the United Kingdom the House of Commons has already approved plans to introduce gay marriage, the legislation will soon be scrutinised by the House of Lords.

On Wednesday Uruguay legalised gay marriage, making the South American country the third in the Americas to do so.

France joins 11 other countries including Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Norway and South Africa where same-sex marriage is legal.

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  • Netherlands

    The Netherlands was the first country to recognize gay marriage in <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/4081999.stm" target="_hplink">2001</a>. <em>Pictured: Jan van Breda and Thijs Timmermans.</em>

  • Belgium

    Belgium legalized same-sex marriages in <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/4081999.stm" target="_hplink">2003. </a> <em>Pictured: Marion Huibrecht and Christel Verswyvelen.</em>

  • Spain

    Spain legalized gay marriage in <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/4081999.stm" target="_hplink">2005</a>.

  • Canada

    Canada followed Spain and approved gay marriage in <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-10650267" target="_hplink">2005. </a>

  • South Africa

    South Africa legalized same sex marriage in <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-10650267" target="_hplink">2006.</a> <em>Pictured: Vernon Gibbs and Tony Hall. </em>

  • Norway

    Norway followed suit in <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-10650267" target="_hplink">2009.</a> <em>Norwegian finance minister and chairwoman of the Socialist Left party Kristin Halvorsen (L) stands next to wedding figurines outside the House of Parliament in Oslo on June 11, 2008, where she celebrated the passing of a new law awarding equal rights to same sex partnerships as those enjoyed by heterosexual marriages. (Getty)</em>

  • Sweden

    Sweden recognized same sex marriage in <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-10650267" target="_hplink">2009.</a> <em>Pictured: Johan Lundqvist (L) and Alf Karlsson. </em>

  • Portugal

    Portugal recognized gay marriage in <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-10650267" target="_hplink">2010.</a> <em>Pictured: Teresa Pires and Helena Paixao. </em>

  • Iceland

    Iceland legalized gay marriage in <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-10650267" target="_hplink">2010.</a>

  • Argentina

    Argentina legalized same sex-marriage in <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/4081999.stm" target="_hplink">2010.</a> It was the only Latin American country to do so. <em>Pictured: Giorgio Nocentino (L) and Jaime Zapata.</em>

  • New Zealand

    New Zealand<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/17/maurice-williamson-new-zealand-gay-marriage-_n_3100714.html?utm_hp_ref=gay-voices" target="_blank"> became the first</a> Asia-Pacific nation (and the 13th in the world) to legalize same-sex marriage. <em>Pictured: Jills Angus Burney (L) and Deborah Hambly.</em>

  • Denmark

    Denmark became the first country to allow the registration of gay partnerships in 1989. In 2012, Denmark's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/07/denmark-approves-gay-wedd_0_n_1577288.html" target="_blank">Parliament approved </a>a law allowing same-sex couples to get married in formal church weddings instead of the short blessing ceremonies that the state's Lutheran Church offered.

  • Uruguay

    The Uruguay Parliament lawmakers passed the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/10/uruguay-legalizes-gay-marriage_n_3057458.html" target="_blank">"marriage equality project"</a> in Montevideo, Uruguay,Wednesday, April 10, 2013.

  • U.S.A.

    Same-sex marriage is legal in 13 U.S. states and Washington DC.

  • Brazil

    Some <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/26/brazils-top-appeals-court-upholds-gay-marriage_n_1032481.html" target="_blank">parts of Brazil</a> allow same-sex marriage (AL, BA, CE, DF, ES, MS, PR, PI, SE, and SP).

  • Mexico

    Some areas of Mexico allow gay marriage, such <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/06/mexico-gay-marriage-law-unconstitutional-_n_2249701.html" target="_blank">as Mexico City</a>.

  • France

    France legalized same sex marriage in <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/23/france-gay-marriage-law-_n_3139470.html?utm_hp_ref=world&ir=World&utm_hp_ref=world" target="_hplink">2013</a>. Pictures: an illustration made with plastic figurines of men is seen in front of the Palais Bourbon, the seat of the French National Assembly. (JOEL SAGET/Getty Images)

  • Britain

    Britain legalized gay marriage on July 17, 2013 after Queen Elizabeth II gave her royal stamp of approval. Gay marriages are set to begin in England and Wales in the summer of 2014.