French Cabinet to press head with gay marriage bill despite opposition

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French President Francois Hollande’s Cabinet yesterday pushed ahead with a controversial bill that could see gay marriage legalised early next year, defying vocal opposition in the majority Catholic country from religious leaders, the rural heartland and the conservative opposition.

The French leader’s top ministers approved the bill legalising marriage and adoption for same-sex couples, sending it to the legislature for debate, only one day after two American states – Maine and Maryland – became the first in the US to approve same-sex marriage in a popular vote.

Gay marriage has become a contentious issue in France, where Mr Hollande made it a liberal cornerstone of his campaign, hoping it would create a clean break from his conservative predecessor. At the time, it appeared to have the backing of a majority of the population, but it has since turned into a politically sensitive issue.

Though France would become the 12th country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage if the bill passes, the country of 60m people would become the biggest so far in terms of economic and diplomatic influence.

Polls show a majority of French support gay marriage, but it has divided the country’s left and right, with lawmakers from the conservative UMP denouncing the Cabinet approval.

“It’s the end of the family, the end of children’s development, the end of education. It’s an enormous danger to the nation,” UMP Senator Serge Dassault said on the radio show France Culture.

In France, a prominent conservative and former prime minister, Francois Fillon, has opposed any gay marriage legislation, and he plans to run in this month’s election for the UMP leadership. Amid the clamoring, the Socialists have decided to delay the parliamentary debate about the bill until January, knowing that it risks being modified or diluted by legislators.

Elsewhere in Europe, gay politics has also come to the fore this week. On Tuesday, Spain’s Constitutional Court upheld the legality of the country’s gay marriage law, which was approved in 2005 when the country’s parliament was Socialist controlled.