The French National Assembly approved a bill Tuesday that legalizes gay marriage and allows same-sex couples to adopt children, following months of protests and debates in the once heavily Roman Catholic nation.
The bill passed 329 to 229 with 10 abstaining, and will be sent for a Senate vote in April, where the Socialist majority likely will confirm the vote. While polls last August showed same-sex marriage had two-thirds support among the French, that number has now dropped to a narrow majority. The bill is widely opposed by people in traditional small towns in the countryside, along with religious communities.
The center-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party, which former President Nicolas Sarkozy once led, opposed the bill and introduced nearly 5,000 amendments to delay the vote. The parliament spent 110 hours over 10 days and 10 nights debating the issue, with the bill finally passing on Tuesday. While the UMP knew the bill would eventually pass, members said they used the delay to express their opposition and express the disapproval across France.
In mid-January, traditional marriage group “La Manif Pour Tours,” or “March for All,” drew crowds of 1.3 to 1.5 million to parade through the streets of Paris. They hoped to delay the National Assembly vote and force the government to hold a referendum. March for All plans another protest in Paris on March 24. As of last Friday, the group gathered 276,000 signatures protesting the bill.
The country’s Roman Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist leaders also joined together to testify against the proposed law before a parliamentary commission in late November.
But some, especially in small towns and the countryside, oppose the bill not for mainly religious or political reasons, but to protect the traditional definition of marriage between only a man and a woman. According to the Washington Post, thousands of mayors, deputy mayors, and small-town officials across France hold on to their Christian roots and voiced their opposition.
Franck Meyer, mayor of Sotteville-sous-le-Val said he persuaded 18,000 mayors and deputies to sign a petition demanding a “conscience clause” allowing them to refuse to perform gay marriages. “These are people from right-wing parties, from left-wing parties, and some are not from any party at all,” Meyer told the Washington Post.
If the measure is approved, France will join seven European countries, including Spain and England, in recognizing same-sex “marriage.” President Francois Hollande made legalizing gay “marriage” part of the 60-point program that lead to his win over incumbent Sarkozy in May.
But the UMP is not giving up yet. Member Philippe Gosselin predicts the law could face constitutional challenges: “There are real legal flaws,” he said in a television interview after the vote. “This is a match that is not yet over.”