France moves forward while UK divided
France has taken its first major step to marriage equality by passing a resolution that defines marriage as being between two people rather than a man and a woman.
The French National Assembly passed article one of draft marriage equality legislation by a large majority of 249 to 97.
The whole legislation faces another week of debate before the final vote, slated for February 12.
The article was supported by the ruling Socialist Party and Greens with at least one member of the opposition centre-right UMP as well.
Justice Minister Christiane Taubira said the government was "happy and proud" to have passed the measure.
“We are going to establish the freedom for everyone to choose his or her partner for a future together,” she said.
UMP deputy Philippe Gosselin complained the government was forcing legislation through which the French people did not want.
“Today it is marriage and adoption. Tomorrow it will be medically assisted conception and surrogate mothers,” he said.
However, opinion polls clearly show a majority of French voters support same-sex marriage.
Undaunted, opponents of marriage equality, largely supported by the Catholic church, have been mobilising in large rallies in towns and cities across France.
Meanwhile in the UK plans to introduce same-sex marriage have met with a last minute Tory revolt.
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron supports same-sex marriage, but 20 senior party members calling themselves "Conservative Grassroots" delivered a letter to Downing Street on Sunday asking for any vote to be put off until after the next election.
The letter claimed that some Conservative members felt the law was being fast-tracked through the House without enough time for debate.
“It's being rushed through, there was no mandate for it in the 2010 Conservative manifesto or the coalition agreement, it was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech setting out the government's policies,” Conservatives Grassroots organiser Ben Harris said.
“It is completely inappropriate to nip it in under the radar. Delaying until after the election would allow a proper debate for all the consequences, intended and unintended, to be fully debated.”
Different polls have varied widely on whether the public supports gay marriage, however with strong Labor and Liberal-Democrat support, commentators believe the bill would pass the House of Commons.
Australian-born UK-based human rights activist Peter Tatchell said Conservatives who opposed same-sex marriage were tarnishing the Tories' image.
“The rebels seem to be suggesting that discrimination against gay people is a Conservative value. They claim to support marriage, yet they want to deny the right to marry to loving, committed same-sex couples. It’s illogical," Tatchell said in a statement. "
Surely, they should welcome the fact that many gay people want to get married, especially at a time when so many heterosexuals are deserting marriage in favour of cohabitation."
Tatchell quoted an ICM poll from December 2012 which found 52 per cent of people who voted Conservative at the last election supported same-sex marriage.
"The same poll found that 62 per cent of the public agree with the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Only 31 per cent disagreed," Tatchell said.
“Conservative opponents of same-sex marriage are out of touch with public and religious opinion."
The bill is due to be debated in the House of Commons this week.