Battle-lines are drawn as debate over gay marriage bill continues in France

 

Paris

A gay marriage bill which profoundly divides France crept through parliament today in the face of thousands of wrecking amendments.

The national assembly, which sat through the weekend for the first time in 15 years, is to meet night and day to complete the “marriage for all” law before a deadline on 10 February.

On Saturday, the fifth day of debate, deputies approved the first and most important article, which abolishes the line in the French civil code limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples.

In recognition of the deep disquiet which the proposed law has provoked amongst some French people, the centre-left government has promised to refrain from using  guillotine powers to truncate the debate in the lower house of parliament.

Over 5,000 amendments have been tabled, many of them absurdist proposals by right-wing opposition. They include mocking suggestions to allow polygamous or incestuous weddings or to recognise “mass marriages” involving three or more people.

In parliamentary terms, unlike in Britain, this is largely a left-versus-right battle. Gay marriage was promised by President FrançoisHollande during his successful election campaign last Spring.

Only one centre-right deputy voted for gay marriage on Saturday. Three others abstained. Only one left-wing deputy voted against.

In France as a whole, however, the battle-lines are more complicated. Many rural and provincial left-wing politicians are unhappy about the bill. More than 60 per cent of French people favour gay marriage but a majority opposes adoption by gay couples –something which the bill would also legalise.

Opposition to “le marriage homo” has mobilised conservative and Catholic public opinion on a scale unseen since the 1980s. Over 300,000 people – 800,000, according to the organisers – demonstrated in Paris three weeks ago. Smaller protests were held in a dozen French cities today.

Centre-right politicians – having themselves flirted with idea of legalising gay marriage in the past – have seized on the issue as a way of crystallising opposition to President Hollande.

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