* Government bill includes gay marriage and adoption
* Assisted procreation left out, but MPs could insist
* Religious leaders, conservatives campaign against change
PARIS, Nov 7 (Reuters) - France's Socialist government
approved a draft law on Wednesday to allow same-sex marriage,
despite coming under fierce attack from religious leaders and
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 AND 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.
MORE TIME FOR DEBATE
The government originally underestimated opposition to the
reform but decided to extend the time for parliamentary hearings
in January when critics accused it of trying to stifle debate.
The pro-gay rights group Inter-LGBT was due to hold a rally
outside the National Assembly on Wednesday evening to demand
that assisted procreation, which is currently only available to
married heterosexual couples, be included in the draft law.
Some French lesbians who desire children now travel to
neighbouring Belgium for artificial insemination.
Surrogate motherhood is illegal in France and the draft law
would not change that, meaning that gay men could not engage a
surrogate mother abroad and have the child recognised as their
own on return to France.
Adoption rights would help gay couples who already have
children, because the partner with no biological link to the
child could legally become a parent. Estimates put the number of
such cases at already between 40,000 and 200,000.
But it is unlikely many gay couples will be able to adopt
children un-related to them because there is a shortage of
children for heterosexual couples already seeking to adopt.
> (Editing by Greg Mahlich)
(Editing by Greg Mahlich)