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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