France has moved a step closer to legalising gay marriage with the lower house of parliament approving a sweeping bill which also allows same-sex couples to adopt children.
President Francois Hollande's Socialists have pushed the measure through the National Assembly and put France on track to join about a dozen nations that grant marriage and adoption rights to homosexuals.
The measure, approved in a 329-to-229 vote, comes despite an array of demonstrations in recent weeks by opponents of the "marriage for all" bill. Polls show most French support legalising gay marriage, though that backing softens when children come into play.
The Assembly has been debating the bill and voting on its individual articles in recent weeks. The overall bill now goes to the Senate, which is also controlled by the Socialists and their allies.
With the vote France joins Britain in taking a major legislative step towards allowing gay marriage and adoption - the largest European countries to do so. The Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Spain as well as Argentina, Canada and South Africa have authorised gay marriage, along with six states in the United States.
The issue exposed fault lines between a progressive-minded leftist legislative majority in France, and its conservative roots. Critics - among them many Roman Catholics - railed that the bill would erode the family. The Socialists, however, sought to depict the issue as one of equal rights, and played off France's famed Revolution-era motto of "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity."
"This law is going to extend to all families the protections guaranteed by the institution of marriage," prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said before the vote. "Contrary to what those who vociferate against it say - fortunately they're in the minority - this law is going to strengthen the institution of marriage."
As with many major and controversial reforms in France, the issue drew its share of political grandstanding over weeks of debate: Conservative opponents forced a discussion of nearly 5,000 amendments, a move derided by Socialists as inconsequential stalling tactics. But by the final vote tally, the government rank-and-file rolled out grand, solemn statements of victory.
"This law is a first necessary step, a social evolution that benefits society overall," said Socialist representative Corinne Narassiguin, announcing her party's support for the measure. "Opening up marriage and adoption to homosexual couples is a very beautiful advance ... It is an emblematic vote, a vote that will mark history."