French government unveils draft gay marriage law

Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

* 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

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.


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.


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)