France’s lower house of parliament has passed a bill that will allow same-sex couple to marry and adopt children in a 329-to-229 vote.
The law, proposed by Socialist President Francois Hollande following his election last year, now goes before the upper chamber of parliament, the Senate, where leftist parties enjoy a slim majority.
The bill has provoked a heated national debate and a series of opposing rallies that brought hundreds of thousands to the streets of Paris
Over the past ten days parliamentarians have waded through more than 5,000 amendments proposed by critics of the bill, many as a delaying tactic after deputies agreed to discuss the proposal for fourteen consecutive days at the end of last month. Some of the amendments included proposals to equate gay marriage with marriage between three and more individuals and incestuous weddings.
Over 60 percent of the French support gay marriage, though just under half support adoption by same sex couples.
The law was a key electoral pledge by Hollande, but his critics say he has tried to push it through without broad public consensus.
An alliance of religious believers (both Catholic and Muslim) and right-wing politicians have staged a series of ever-growing rallies with slogans such as "Marriagephile, not homophobe" and “A father, a mother for all our children”. The latest rally, in January, attracted between 340,000 and 800,000 demonstrators.
A new protest against the law will now go ahead on March 24.
Pro-gay rallies, numbering up to 400,000 participants took place two weeks in major French cities, with placards declaring “Equality of rights is not a menace”a common sight.
If the Senate approves the law – known as “marriage for all” by its supporters – during a vote on April 2, France will join 11 other countries that already allow same sex unions, including neighbors Belgium and Spain.
More controversy is likely to unfold around a separate piece of legislation that would allow lesbians to receive state-funded artificial insemination. The proposal was initially bundled with the marriage law, but has been separated following fierce opposition.