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France sets date for gay marriage approval

France on Wednesday named October 31st as the date when a draft law authorising gay marriage will be approved by government ministers amid signs of mounting opposition to the proposed legislation.

More than 1,200 French mayors or deputy mayors have signed a petition opposing the government's plans, with many of them warning they will not preside over same-sex ceremonies.

But, in an interview with AFP, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault insisted there would be no backtracking on a manifesto promise by President Francois Hollande which has also run into strong opposition from the Catholic church.

The text to be presented to Hollande's cabinet will redefine marriage to stipulate that it is "contracted between two persons of different sex or of the same sex," Ayrault said.

The draft legislation will include provision for married gay couples to adopt children but the right will not be immediately extended to unmarried homosexuals, he added.

That question and the issue of gay couples' access to medically assisted conception will be addressed in secondary legislation at a later date.

"After a very broad consultation process that, of course, involved religious leaders, I've made up my mind," Ayrault said. "This is about ensuring fairness and equality that reflects the evolution of our society."

Six bishops in Normandy called for further debate on the legislation.    

"We believe that such a decision, which would represent a turning point for civilisation, cannot rest on the principle of equality and non-discrimination alone," they said in a statement.

Xavier Lemoine, a mayor who has said he will not allow gay weddings to take place in his town hall in the Paris suburb of Montfermeil, said the proposed legislation would be a disaster for society.

"I can refuse to apply the law if the law is tyrannical," he said. "Above all else, I have to respect my conscience."

The mayors' petition against gay marriage is being orchestrated by Jacques Bompard, mayor of the southern French town of Orange and a member of the far-right National Front.

The 1,200 signatures represent less than one percent of the total number of mayors and deputy mayors in France.

Opinion polls suggest up to two thirds of French voters back the right of homosexuals to marry but they are evenly split on allowing them to adopt.

The further one goes from Paris, the stronger the opposition. A group of mayors on the Mediterranean island of Corsica have vowed they will refuse to carry out gay marriages and the reform is particularly controversial in France's Caribbean and Pacific territories.

Hollande has promised that the legislation will be on the statute books by mid-2013 and there is sufficient cross party support to ensure the government will be able to push it through on schedule.

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RUSSIA

Putin warns France after gay marriage vote

President Vladimir Putin on Friday said Russia could change agreements for the adoption of Russian children made with France and other Western states that are legalising gay marriage.

Putin warns France after gay marriage vote
Photo: Bertrand Langlois/AFP

"I consider it fully correct to make changes to the appropriate documents. It is a current issue and we need to think about it," Putin said at a meeting with lawmakers.

"We need to react to what is going on around us. We respect our partners but ask (that they) respect the cultural traditions and ethical, legal and moral norms of Russia," Putin said, quoted by Russian news agencies.

The Russian parliament, in a law signed by Putin, had already caused a storm last year by banning the adoption of Russian children by American families.

That law was adopted as part of retaliation for human rights legislation adopted by US lawmakers.

The Interfax news agency said Putin's comments on Friday were in response to a question posed by a lawmaker from the western Russian region of Kaliningrad who directly referred to the adoption this month of a bill by the French parliament legalising same-sex marriage.

The lawmaker, named as Marina Orgiyeva, suggested making changes in adoption agreements with France to ensure that Russian children did not fall into the hands of same-sex parents.

Putin did not specify what changes he wanted to see in the agreements.

French President Francois Hollande has promised to sign the gay marriage bill into law as soon as France's Constitutional Council rules on a challenge filed by right-wing lawmakers.

Russia decriminalised homosexuality in 1993 and officially removed it from the list of psychiatric disorders in 1999.

But homophobia remains widespread and socially acceptable, and almost no public figures have come out as gay. Putin prides himself on a virile, heterosexual image.

Several Russian regions have outraged rights campaigners by approving local laws banning gay propaganda among minors, in legislation which is now in the initial stages of discussion at the federal parliament.

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