French President François Hollande has had precious little to celebrate since he was elected last May. His country's economy has refused to ignite, unemployment is nearing record highs and his government has been rocked by recent corruption allegations.
But this week, Hollande was finally able to take a key step toward fulfilling a major campaign promise. After months of passionate debate both among lawmakers and on the streets of Paris, the French Senate late Tuesday passed a key provision of the package of laws that would ultimately place same-sex marriage on par with heterosexual marriage in the country.
Following a 10-hour debate, the Senate voted 179 to 157 in favor of an article allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed. The law will only go into effect once the Senate approves all of its component parts. A further article still pending approval would allow gay married couples in the country to adopt. The first article passed on Tuesday, however, was the most important and virtually assures the legalization of gay marriage in the country.
It could still take several weeks before all of the provisions of the law are passed in the Senate. France's lower house, the National Assembly, passed the law in mid-February.
The law is the first significant social reform under the watch of Socialist President Hollande. And recent months have shown that there remains plenty of opposition to gay marriage in the country. Hundreds of thousands of anti-gay marriage protesters have taken to the streets in recent weeks to voice their disapproval of the measure. Surveys, however, indicate that well over half the population support marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Gay and lesbian couples in France have been allowed to enter into civil unions since 1999. The new law, however, would place them on the same level as heterosexual couples when it comes to taxation, adoption and other areas.
The vote means that France is set to become the latest country to legalize gay marriage, joining 11 other countries, most of them in Europe. Germany has thus far declined to take the step despite widespread support for the measure. Chancellor Angela Merkel recently had to squelch a debate on the issue among her conservatives as it threatened to become a central campaign issue.
And it still could. Germany's high court expanded adoption rights for same-sex couples already this year and is currently looking at laws excluding gay couples from joint tax filing benefits enjoyed by married heterosexual couples. A ruling on that issue is expected before the elections this fall.