Scuffles broke out in the French parliament in the early hours of as right-wing opposition to a gay marriage law becomes increasingly strident and ill-tempered.
Centre-right parliamentarians surrounded the Justice minister and tried to shove ushers aside after a government official mimicked a speech by one of their colleagues. The scuffling continued a few minutes later in the main lobby of the national assembly.
Opposition to the law, which should be approved by parliament next Wednesday, has become increasingly confrontational, and even violent, in the past few days. Far-right activists pelted riot police with bottles and stones in central Paris on Wednesday night after breaking away from a peaceful protest. A neo-Nazi gang smashed up a gay bar in Lille the same night, announcing they had come to “beat up gays”.
Although leaders of the main protest campaign have denounced the violence, they have also ratcheted up the tension with a series of provocative comments since the government accelerated the legislative timetable last week. They have spoken of a “change of civilisation”, “a blood-bath” and a “civil war” if the law is passed. One centre-right parliamentarian accused the government of “murdering babies”.
Members of the left-wing governments have been bombarded with threatening mail accusing them of being part of a “Gaystapo”. Ministers are being harassed by flash mobs of young, middle-class protesters.
The confrontations in the National Assembly were provoked by a speech by a centre-right parliamentarian complaining about police brutality in suppressing a protest near the Invalides in Paris. Marc Le Fur said he had seen a “young woman being dragged by her hair” by three riot policemen.
A senior official in the justice ministry was seen mimicking Mr Le Fur’s speech. In a break in the session, a score of centre-right members tried to confront the official and the Justice Minister, Christiane Taubira, but were held back by government MPs and parliamentary usher. In the main lobby outside, the scuffles resumed after Socialist deputies accused their opponents of exaggerating the police violence. Centre-right deputies produced “proof” – a shoe which they said had been lost by the manhandled woman.
Legalisation of gay marriage was promised by President François Hollande in his successful campaign 12 months ago. It has the support of 60 per cent of French people.
Both the national assembly and senate have passed versions of the law. The lower house is expected to approve the marginally amended senate version by next Wednesday.