PARIS Two men will marry in the southern French city of Montpellier on Wednesday, the first same-sex couple to wed in France under a reform which has stoked some of the fiercest street protests in the country in decades.
Vincent Aubin and Bruno Boileau - together since they hit it off six years ago discussing music in an online forum - will exchange vows in the city hall before the mayor, relatives and friends, and as many other well-wishers as can be crammed in.
Plans to broadcast the ceremony live on a giant TV screen and lay on drinks so that people in the plaza outside could toast the couple have been ditched, however, over fears that hardline opponents of gay marriage could sour the proceedings.
Unwilling to turn the square in front of the city hall into a fenced-off, high-security zone, officials have instead opted to beam the event live online to the city council's website.
"It's a stressful time for Victor and Bruno. There are people who will try to mark this symbolic day with words of hate," said Elodie Brun, a coordinator at the local Gay Pride Association which Aubin heads.
Brun will be a witness to the nuptials, set for 11:30 p.m. EDT, and sign the first ever marriage registry entry for two people of the same sex in a nation both predominantly Roman Catholic and fiercely attached to separating church and state.
Backed by most voters and feted by gay men and lesbians when it came into force this month, a law making France the 14th country to allow same-sex marriage has triggered heated street protests by conservatives, Catholics and extreme right-wingers.
Frigide Barjot, a pink-clad comedian who leads the anti-gay marriage movement, has urged her supporters to stay away from Wednesday's wedding and expressed concern at right-wingers who have hurled bricks, bottles and firecrackers during marches. On Sunday, a massive march in Paris was marred by violence.
Organisers of the wedding in Montpellier, a bohemian city with a mediaeval university and which boasts of being the most gay-friendly town in France, are taking no chances.
A few dozen members of the public will be let in to the 500-seat function room alongside invited guests and dozens of journalists for the wedding of the year in Montpellier's futuristic new city hall, built in blue glass.
"We'll do all the security checks we can," said Brun. "Though at the end of the day we can't prevent somebody getting inside and shouting something in the middle of the ceremony."
Aubin, 40, and Boileau, 29, were the first gay couple to apply to marry as Socialist President Francois Hollande was pushing through the law granting equal marriage and adoption rights that go beyond existing rules for civil partnerships.
Aubin proposed by phoning Boileau at work in September in front of city officials who had just announced that Montpellier would host the first gay wedding. Boileau, put publicly on the spot via speakerphone, was taken by surprise. But he said yes.
Since then, rallies that are partly fueled by anger at the government over other issues like the economy appear to have eroded support for the gay marriage law; it now stands at 53 percent, with 47 percent opposed, reflecting a deep national division, particularly over the adoption rights it includes.
Last week, one opponent of gay marriage shot himself dead at the altar of Paris's Notre Dame cathedral and on Sunday hundreds of thousands marched in the capital to demand the law's repeal.
That evening, the jury at the Cannes Film Festival, along France's Mediterranean coast from Montpellier, handed top prize to an explicit, taboo-shattering love story between two women.
(Reporting by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Mark John and Alastair Macdonald)