A controversial bill to legalise same-sex marriage took its first step to becoming law on February 2nd when lawmakers voted in favour of an article that redefines marriage as an agreement between two people rather than between only a man and a woman.
Deputies met for a rare weekend session at the French parliament after it was decided that 14 consecutive days would be dedicated to the controversial bill, which has long been supported by progressive voters but remains hugely unpopular among Catholic and conservative groups.
The article was approved 249-97, with most deputies from the ruling Socialist Party (PS) voting in favour, and all but one of the conservative UMP party’s representatives voting against. The two far-right National Front (FN) deputies opposed the bill, and the party called on its supporters to join Catholic-driven protests against it.
Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, who delivered a rousing speech in favour of the bill earlier this week, said that the government was “happy and proud” following the vote. “We are going to establish the freedom for everyone to choose his or her partner for a future together,” she said.
The government wishes the final complete bill to give same-sex couples the right to marry and also adopt children in the same way heterosexual couples do. An article detailing the right to medically assisted procreation (PMA) has yet to be finalised.
The controversial law, which is Hollande’s first major reform since he became president, has seen some 5,000 amendments lodged by the conservative opposition as a delaying tactic and sparked massive street protests, the latest in January totalling at least 340,000 people.
UMP deputy Philippe Gosselin, who voted against the legislation, argued that French voters were not in support of it. “Today it is marriage and adoption. Tomorrow it will be medically assisted conception and surrogate mothers," he said.
Same-sex marriage is also up for debate in neighbouring Britain next week, when the UK parliament meets on Tuesday to discuss an amendment to the law there. Currently gay couples in the county can enter a civil union which gives the same legal rights as marriage, but rights campaigners say that same-sex unions lack full recognition because of their status as a union rather than a marriage.