PARIS (AFP) - France's National Assembly has overwhelmingly approved the key article of legislation that will allow gay couples to get married and adopt children.
Deputies voted 249-97 in favour of Article One of the draft law, which redefines marriage as being a contract between two people, rather than necessarily between a man and a woman.
Although the proposed law still faces at least another week of scrutiny before a final vote scheduled for Feb 12, it now looks set to emerge from parliament undelayed and undiluted.
After months of frenzied debate, the ease with which the law cleared its first major hurdle was welcomed by delighted gay rights activists.
"Things are going well and quickly, which is a relief for us," said gay rights activist Nicolas Gougain. "We've never seen so many deputies arguing the case for equality and for the recognition of different kinds of families."
The article approved yesterday (Sat) was supported by deputies of the ruling Socialist Party, who have an overall majority in the Assembly, other leftists and Greens as well as at least one member of the UMP, the main centre-right opposition force.
"We are happy and proud to have taken this first step," Justice Minister Christiane Taubira said. "We are going to establish the freedom for everyone to choose his or her partner for a future together."
But UMP deputy Philippe Gosselin said the government was forcing through legislation that France did not want.
"Today it is marriage and adoption. Tomorrow it will be medically assisted conception and surrogate mothers," he said in comments that reflected a widely felt concern among opponents of the government's plans.