French govt unveils draft gay marriage law

France's Socialist government approved a draft law to allow same-sex marriage.

Gay pride flag. Picture: sxc.hu

PARIS - France's Socialist government approved a draft law on Wednesday to allow same-sex marriage, despite coming under fierce attack from religious leaders and conservative politicians.

The proposed law, presented as the first major social reform of Francois Hollande's presidency, would grant gay couples the right to adopt children but not to use assisted procreation methods such as artificial insemination.

Parliament is due to vote on the proposals by mid-2013.

The draft was a compromise, leaving out the complex issue of assisted procreation to ease its way through parliament. But left-wing deputies have vowed to amend the text to include it.

Leaders of all major faiths and some conservative deputies have vigorously denounced the plan and lay Catholic groups have announced street demonstrations against it next week.

"This is an important step towards equality of rights," Family Minister Dominique Bertinotti told reporters after the cabinet meeting adopted the draft to allow "marriage for all," as its supporters describe the reform.

A government spokeswoman said Hollande told the cabinet the reform would be "progress not only for a few, but for the whole society," a clear response to a charge by Paris Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois that it was "a fraud" favouring a tiny minority.

CHURCH & CONSERVATIVES OPPOSED

The head of France's Roman Catholic Church told his fellow bishops in the pilgrimage town of Lourdes last Saturday that same-sex marriage would upset the equilibrium of French society and harm children growing up without a father and a mother.

Jean-Francois Cope, secretary general of the conservative UMP party, said the government's plan would "play havoc" with the Civil Code, which would have to be re-worded to remove gender references from passages dealing with family issues.

Their criticism has dominated the public debate in recent weeks, prompting a slight dip in voter support to around 60 percent for gay marriage and around 50 percent for gay adoption.

If the law is passed, France, a traditionally Catholic society where churchgoers are now a minority single-digit percentage of the population, would become the 12th country in the world to allow same-sex marriage.

France legalised gender-neutral civil unions in 1999 and almost as many are contracted now as traditional marriages. But only 4 percent of those are among same-sex couples.

In recent weeks the Catholic Church and France's Jewish, Muslim, Orthodox Christian and Buddhist religious minorities have been especially severe in criticising the possible options of gay adoption and assisted procreation.

In separate statements they have avoided using religious arguments and based their criticism on what they said were the social, psychological and legal problems.