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France upholds ban on gay marriage

France's top constitutional watchdog has ruled that laws prohibiting gay marriage do not violate the constitution, and noted that parliament was free to make new laws on the subject.

The decision leaves an opening for a constitutional amendment in the future - and hope for two women who had challenged the French civil code's stipulation that marriage must be between a man and a woman.

Corinne Cestino and Sophie Hasslauer, who have lived together for 15 years and have four children, had challenged the constitutionality of the country's law banning gay marriage and have sought the right to wed.

In its decision, the Council noted that lawmakers had agreed that the "difference in situations of same-sex couples and couples made up of a man and a woman can justify a difference in treatment concerning family rights".

"It is not up to the Constitutional Council to substitute its appreciation for that of lawmakers," the body said.

It noted that its job is to simply rule on whether a measure abides by the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the French Constitution. In this case, it ruled that the articles in question are, indeed, "in conformity with the constitution".

Ms Cestino, a paediatrician, said this week: "It is not so much about getting married, but about having the right to get married. So, that is what we are asking for: Just to be able, like anyone else, to choose to get married or not."

The issue exposes a paradox in France - while the country often has an anything-goes attitude to romance and sexuality, it can be conservative with family values and advocacy group Act Up Paris had hoped the country would soon join European Union partners - including Spain, Belgium and Netherlands - that have legalised same-sex marriage.

Hasslauer and Cestino, who are in their 40s, entered into a civil union known as the Civil Solidarity Pact in 2000, mostly useful for its tax benefits and other financial advantages.

The couple had hoped that a negative decision by the Constitutional Council would force France's conservative government to sponsor a bill on gay marriage to send to parliament.

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