French Senate approves crucial article of equal marriage bill

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France’s Senate has approved the crucial first article of a bill granting gay couples the right to marry.

The upper house approved the article overnight by a vote of 179 to 157, with all Senators from the ruling Socialists voting in favour and five from the main opposition right-wing UMP breaking ranks with their colleagues to approve it.

A final vote is expected on Thursday or Friday.

AFP reports the complete bill must still be approved by the Senate, as well as another article granting same-sex couples the right to adopt.

President Hollande’s government gave its formal approval to the bill last November.

The head of the Socialists’ Senate faction, Francois Rebsamen, said the vote “marked a victory in the fight against homophobia and for tolerance and democracy.” The vote came after 10 hours of debate that saw UMP Senators voice fierce opposition to the bill.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman with a view to procreation. Two men or two women will never be able to have children!” UMP Senator Charles Revet said during the debate.

The lower house approved the legislation in February – with 329 Assembly Members voting in favour of the bill and 229 against – a majority of 100 votes.

In March, around 300,000 same-sex marriage opponents took part in a huge rally in Paris, it turned ugly when a small group tried to reach the Champs Elysees and tear gas was deployed.

Opponents said on Wednesday they would organise another mass protest in Paris on 26 May if the law is approved, to demand its withdrawal and a referendum on equal marriage.

However, LGBT campaigners in France and around the world have welcomed the Senate’s decision.

Australian Marriage Equality national director, Rodney Croome, said: “France’s message to Australia and the world is that the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity apply equally to same-sex couples.”

“The French vote, combined with recent votes in the UK & Uruguay and a vote expected in New Zealand Parliament shortly, highlights how quickly Australia is falling behind other nations.”

“Given the romance associated with Paris I expect many Australian same-sex couples will marry under the new French law, only to return to Australia to find their solemn vow is not recognised.”