France backs bill to allow same-sex marriage

FRANCE’S lower house of parliament has voted to back same-sex marriage, paving the way for it to enter law in the wake of street marches which rallied hundreds of thousands of demonstrators both for and against the measure.

It is France’s most important social reform since the abolition of the death penalty in 1981, but is opposed by social conservatives in the Catholic country, which has a majority of Catholics, together with many French Muslims and evangelical Christians.

Assuming it is passed by the Senate upper house in a 2 April vote, France will join 11 other countries including Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Norway and South Africa where same-sex marriage is legal.

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“We’ve waged a great and noble battle,” justice minister Christiane Taubira, the bill’s main promoter, told journalists yesterday ahead of the 329 vs 229 vote in favour of the bill.

President François Hollande’s Socialists hold a majority in the National Assembly, which allowed them to overcome attempts by opponents to delay proceedings with about 5,000 amendments that took more than 100 hours of acrimonious debate. The Socialists and their allies hold a majority in the Senate.

Known in France as “marriage for all”, the bill has proven to be the most divisive social initiative undertaken by Mr Hollande’s government in his nine months in power. On 13 January, a CSA poll showed it had split the population roughly in two, with a slim majority of 51 per cent in favour and 43 per cent opposed.

Legislators dropped a plan to also allow lesbians access to artificial insemination, which had proved highly contentious among voters. A separate bill covering that is due for debate later this year.

Some two-thirds of the French describe their religion as Catholic, though church attendance has dwindled since the 1970s. France is home to large Muslim and Jewish populations, which number about five million and 500,000 respectively.