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On February 2, 2013, the French National Assembly voted 249 to 97 to approve Article One of the new marriage law, signalling that the marriage equality bill will be approved by the Assembly. It will then be considered by the Senate. It may be enacted into law by Valentine's Day.
Dan Littauer of Gay Star News, reports that the key article, which defines marriage as a contract between two people of either the same or the opposite sex, was approved overwhelmingly. Deputies from the ruling Socialist Party and the Left Front were joined by environmentalists, radical leftists, and two members of the opposition UMP Party.
The overwhelming vote resulted from the large number of abstentions from the center-right and right-wing parties. The 249 votes in favor of Article One indicates that the marriage bill will likely become law, but the final vote on it may be closer than the vote on February 2, if some of the conservatives who abstained decide to cast negative votes on the bill as a whole.
Significantly, on February 2 Deputies also defeated an amendment proposed by conservatives that would have allowed mayors who object to same-sex marriages to refuse to perform them. French mayors will thus be obliged by law to conduct both same-sex and opposite-sex marriages if the bill becomes law.
The bill must now be debated article by article in a voting process that is expected to last for several days. Then the bill goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass, then to President Hollande for his signature.
France may well enact the marriage equality legislation by Valentine's Day.
Currently, both same-sex and opposite-sex French couples may enter into Civil Solidarity Pacts (PACS), which provide some of the rights and responsibilities of marriage; but only heterosexual couples are allowed to marry or adopt children.
During his campaign, President Hollande pledged unequivocally, "I will open the right to marriage and adoption to homosexual couples."
Recent polls show that 63% of French voters are in favor of same-sex marriage, while 49% are in favor of adoption by same-sex couples.
Elaine Sciolino explains in the New York Times that the campaign for marriage equality comes as the appeal of traditional heterosexual marriage has declined in France. "Seventy percent of the French do not think it is important for couples living together to get married, according to an Insee poll in 2012. Fewer than four marriages for every 1,000 citizens were performed in France in 2011, compared with nearly eight in 1970."
Although the Civil Solidarity Pact legislation of 1999 was intended to give gay and lesbian couples many of the rights of marriage, it has been used overwhelmingly by heterosexual couples as a kind of "marriage light." It is so popular as an alternative to marriage that in 2010, there were four civil unions for every five marriages.
Even at a recent invitation-only soiree at the Rond-Point Theater on the Champs-Élysées which attracted government ministers, intellectuals, politicians, artists, and union leaders to support marriage equality in France, some people expressed a lack of enthusiasm for marriage itself.
Indeed, Pierre Bergé, the longtime personal and business partner of Yves Saint Laurent, who sponsored the Rond-Point event, expressed reservations. He and Saint-Laurent had entered into a Civil Solidarity Pact, but Bergé was unsure whether they would have married. "Personally, I don't like the word 'marriage,'" he said. "I'd like it replaced in the civil code with the words 'civil union.'"
Nevertheless, the issue has now become less about marriage as a social institution and more about equal rights. For example, historian Marie-Josèphe Bonnet, who has called marriage an "instrument of domination," expressed her support for the bill legalizing same-sex marriage. "No one can be opposed to equality," she said.
The video below captures the moment of passage of Article One by the Assembly.