The government is preparing a change in the French civil code which would give official blessing to "common interest pacts", or formal partnerships between gay couples or heterosexual partners who prefer not to marry.
The Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, promised to do something to improve the legal and financial status of homosexual partnerships during his successful general election campaign last May. The proposed changes in the law, or civil code, will satisfy some gay campaigners but disappoint and infuriate others.
Homosexual groups have been pushing for gay couples to be given the right to marry in the eyes of the state. The reform falls short of this demand. It would not give couples who sign the "common pacts" - whether homosexual or heterosexual - the right to adopt children or obtain medical help to have children within the health system.
The extension of the new status to any two people living together, whether in a sexual partnership or not, is a deliberate political ploy by the government. Many Socialist deputies had warned in advance that they did not want to vote for something which could be presented by right-wing opponents as a "pederasts' charter".
The Socialist MPs can now argue that the change in the law will also be of benefit to - say - two old ladies who have chosen to live together for companionship.
Even so, the proposed new status for unmarried couples will be fiercely opposed by the family lobby and many members of centre-right parties.
It is unclear whether couples would have to prove that a stable partnership has existed for a given period. A waiting time of five years is under consideration.Reuse content