French lawmakers approve same-sex marriage bill

(CNN) -- French lawmakers voted to legalize same-sex marriage Tuesday, despite vocal protests from some conservatives opposed to the step.

The nation's lower house approved a marriage bill, which would also give same-sex couples the right to adopt, in a 331-to-225 final vote.

They cast their votes after impassioned speeches by lawmakers for and against the legislation.

President Francois Hollande, who pledged his support for same-sex marriage on the campaign trail last year, will have to sign the bill before it becomes law.

After Tuesday's lower house vote, a group of senators filed a legal challenge with the country's Constitutional Council, according to a statement published on the UMP conservative opposition party's senate website.

The court has a month to rule on the challenge filed by conservative and centrist senators.

The measure had been expected to pass Tuesday since the left, which includes Hollande's governing Socialist Party, dominates the National Assembly, or lower house. The legislation was approved in the Senate earlier this month.

If the measure is enacted, France would be the ninth country in Europe to allow same-sex marriage.

Protesters on Sunday joined the latest in a series of marches through Paris against the measure, and they have vowed to carry on the fight.

One of the groups behind the marchers urged protesters to rally again Tuesday evening and is planning more demonstrations around the country next month.

Policing has been stepped up in the streets around the lower house in case demonstrations by those for and against the bill become heated, CNN affiliate BFM-TV reported.

In France, the contentious debate over the same-sex marriage bill has coincided with a spike in reported incidents of homophobic abuse, the gay rights group SOS Homophobie told BFM-TV last week.

A gay bar in Lille was targeted Wednesday night by four men who appeared to belong to a far-right group, Interior Minister Manuel Valls said Thursday, in a statement condemning the attack.

Valls also condemned violence that broke out Thursday evening at a march against same-sex marriage, when "organized groups" refused to disperse and clashed with police.

France is committed to upholding the right of all people to demonstrate peacefully, he said.

International debate

Passage of the divisive bill will admit France to a small but growing club.

Lawmakers in New Zealand last week made it the first country in the Asia Pacific region to legalize same-sex marriage. The law is set to be enacted later this year.

Its move came a week after Uruguayan lawmakers approved a measure allowing same-sex marriage. The measure awaits the signature of Uruguay's president, who has indicated he supports it.

If the laws in New Zealand, Uruguay and France are enacted as expected, the count of nations allowing same-sex marriage will rise to 14.

The first same-sex couples walked down the aisle in the Netherlands in 2001, with others following suit in Canada, South Africa, Belgium and Spain. Argentina was the first Latin American nation to legalize such marriages, in 2010.

Legislators in the United Kingdom are also weighing proposals to legalize same-sex marriage.

However, many countries remain split over the issue.

In the United States, the question went before the Supreme Court last month, and justices are now deliberating over the matter.

Nine states and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, including three states -- Maryland, Washington, and Maine -- where voters approved it in ballot initiatives last year. Many states have specific laws blocking same-sex couples from legally marrying.

Lawmakers in Australia voted against a bill to legalize same-sex marriage last September. A poll for the advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality indicated that 64% of those surveyed "support marriage equality."

A law legalizing civil unions was introduced in 1999 in France under a previous Socialist government.

Known in France as the PACS, or pacte civil de solidarite, the civil union agreement can be entered into by same-sex or straight couples and confers many but not all of the rights of marriage.