Opposition increases from Catholic Church and others but public support also grows stronger.
The French Government pressed ahead yesterday with its plans to legalise gay marriage despite vociferous opposition from religious leaders and the political right.
A draft law approved by the Cabinet went some way towards answering claims that "marriage for all" would destroy the traditional family and "abolish" the concept of husbands, wives, mothers and fathers in the eyes of the French state.
The Civil Code, which regulates family law, will be amended only "where strictly necessary", the Government said. The words "mother and father" will be replaced in some places by the word "parents" and "husband and wife" by "spouses".
The changes are unlikely to calm the increasingly strident opposition from the Catholic Church, as well as other religious leaders and right-wing and rural politicians. A poll for Le Monde suggested yesterday, however, that public support for the idea of gay marriage was growing. A survey by IFOP found 65 per cent approved of the idea.
At yesterday's Cabinet meeting, President Francois Hollande described the draft law as "progress not just for some, but for the whole of society". Public debate was "natural" but should be "restrained" and respect all opinions and beliefs, he said.
The law will be presented in January and should pass both houses of the French Parliament with relative ease. It opens, in theory, a right of adoption to homosexual married couples. To the disappointment of some left-wing politicians and gay campaigners, it does not give lesbian couples the legal right to have "medically assisted" children.
Opposition has been voiced by many politicians on the centre-right but also by the leaders of the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Islamic faiths in France. Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, the leader of the French Catholic Church, said last weekend that "any vision of humanity which fails to recognise differences in gender will shake the foundations of our society".
Senator Serge Dassault, head of an aviation company and owner of the right-wing newspaper Le Figaro, said : "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."
Supporters point out that 11 countries, including Canada, Belgium and Spain, have legalised gay marriage without falling into obvious moral or social decay.
Family Minister Dominique Bertinotti said the law should be seen as strengthening, rather than "destroying" the family, by giving homosexual partnerships "judicial security and protection".
Centre-right politicians, anxious not to lose urban votes by seeming stridently anti-gay, have emphasised alleged "anti-family" implications of the law. By referring only to "parents" or to "parent No 1 and parent No 2", the amended Civil Code would destroy the authority and legitimacy of fathers and mothers, they said. Yesterday's amended draft sought to undermine this argument.
Opposition to gay marriage has been made more virulent by the campaign to replace Nicolas Sarkozy as the leader of the main centre-right party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP). Former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, one of two candidates to become party president soon, has promised to repeal the law and "de-marry" homosexual couples. Even some right-wingers in his own party say this would be constitutionally and morally unsound.