France’s National Assembly on Saturday overwhelmingly approved a key piece of legislation that will allow homosexual couples to marry and adopt children, to the delight of gay activists.
Deputies voted 249-97 in favor of Article 1 of the draft law, which redefines marriage as being a contract between two people, rather than necessarily between a man and a woman.
Although the proposed law still faces at least another week of scrutiny before a final vote scheduled for Feb. 12, it now looks set to emerge from parliament without delay and undiluted.
After months of frenzied debate, the ease with which the law cleared its first major hurdle was welcomed by delighted gay rights activists.
“Things are going well and quickly, which is a relief for us,” Nicolas Gougain of the Inter-LGBT lobby group said. “We’ve never seen so many deputies arguing the case for equality and for the recognition of different kinds of families. We can now look forward to the remainder of the debate calmly. It’s fabulous.”
However, as activists celebrated, tens of thousands of opponents to the law gathered in cities across France on Saturday.
Police estimated that 80,000 people took to the streets nationwide. The conservative Paris suburb of Versailles saw the biggest turnout, with 15,000 demonstrators counted — more than twice as many as in the capital itself.
The article approved on Saturday was supported by deputies of the ruling Socialist Party, who enjoy an overall majority in parliament, other leftists and Greens, as well as at least one member of the UMP, the main center-right opposition force.
“We are happy and proud to have taken this first step,” French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira said. “We are going to establish the freedom for everyone to choose his or her partner for a future together.”
The National Assembly also rejected a clause that would give mayors the right to refuse to marry a gay couple.
However, UMP Deputy Philippe Gosselin said the government was forcing through legislation that France did not want.
“Today, it is marriage and adoption. Tomorrow, it will be medically assisted conception and surrogate mothers,” he said in comments that reflected a widely felt concern among opponents of the government’s plans.
Paris Archbishop Andre Vingt-Trois said on Saturday that moves to legalize surrogacy would logically follow the adoption of the legislation.
Opinion polls suggest a clear majority of French voters support the right of gay couples to wed and a narrower majority favor them being granted the right to adopt as couples. Gay men and women can already adopt as individuals if approved by social services.