The French senate has voted to legalise same-sex marriage in France, putting a landmark bill on track to become law by summer.
The vote in the upper house of parliament – led by president Francois Hollande’s Socialists – comes despite boisterous protests in recent weeks. Opponents, mostly conservatives and Roman Catholics, have sought to defend traditional marriage.
Justice minister Christine Taubira, one of the bill’s most prominent supporters, said the reform recognises that many children are already living with same-sex parents and deserve the same protections as the ones afforded to children of opposite sex parents.
The bill is now certain to become law after a final vote in the lower house, expected in May.
“These are children that scrape their knees, eat too many sweets, don’t like broccoli, drive you crazy… we protect them,” Ms Taubira told senators following the vote.
She said the reform will “move our institutions towards ever more freedom, equality and personal respect”.
Both houses of parliament will now take up a second reading to consider minor senate changes to the bill passed in February by the National Assembly, also controlled by a Socialist-led majority.
Some conservative senators vowed to continue their opposition. “The parliamentary process continues so we will keep talking with the French people who seem to change their position,” said UMP party senator Jean-Pierre Raffarin. “So nothing is definitive and the debate continues.”
Polls have shown a narrow majority of French support legalising gay marriage, although that support falls when questions about adoption and conception of children come into play.
The bill would allow gay marriage and let same-sex couples adopt children. On the campaign trail last year, Mr Hollande pledged to push through such legislation if elected.
About a dozen mostly European nations already allow gay marriage.
Opponents and supporters of France’s bill have staged demonstrations throughout its passage through parliament. In mid-January, 340,000 people converged on the Eiffel Tower to protest against the plan to legalise gay marriage. Two weeks later, 125,000 proponents of the bill marched in the capital.
French civil unions, allowed since 1999, are at least as popular among heterosexuals as among gay and lesbian couples.
During 2011, 135,994 heterosexual civil unions were registered, compared with just 3,680 gay unions and 3,063 between lesbian couples.
However, the number of dissolutions has also risen dramatically, from 34,023 in 2010, to 41,352 one year later.
A civil union, known as a pacte civil de solidarité, can be dissolved with a registered letter, and confers most of the tax benefits and legal protections of marriage.
They are increasingly popular among the younger generation, who see civil unions as more practical and less ‘heavy’ than marriage. However, civil unions have no provisions for adoption or assisted reproduction.