Today, the French senate voted to legalize gay marriage after a week of heated debate. The bill, which won a 179-157 majority vote, will now return to the National Assembly for a second reading before expected approval in May. The second reading is seen as a technicality as the members of the National Assembly approved the move on February 12.

Justice Minister Christiane Taubira said the bill would strengthen French society "by granting the simple recognition of full citizenship to homosexual couples." The French president Francois Hollande also publicly supports same-sex marriage.

Though the country is close to granting legal rights to same-sex couples, there has been a reported rapid increase in assaults against gay men and women in France over the past few months. A gay rights organization SOS Homophobie reported a 30% rise of verbal and physical attacks since 2011.

Opinion polls in the country show that between 55 percent to 60 perfect of French people approve of same-sex marriage, while about 50 perfect approve of gay couples adopting children.

France will join the twelve other countries worldwide that have legalized same-sex marriage, including Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Norway, South Africa and Uruguay, which legalized gay marriage on Wednesday. The House of Commons in the UK has approved plans to introduce gay marriage legislation, which the House of Lords must vote on shortly.

[BBC | The Huffington Post, image via AP]