FRENCH politicians overnight rejected a bill presented by the opposition Socialist Party seeking to legalise same-sex marriage, despite growing public support for gay rights.
The vote reflected opposition to gay marriage among President Nicolas Sarkozy's governing conservatives and the strain of traditional values that runs through many parts of France - away from the gay-friendly bars and neighbourhoods of Paris.
The National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, turned down the measure by 293 votes to 222. Opposition was led by Mr Sarkozy's UMP, while Socialists and other leftists supported the bill, which said "marriage can be contracted by two people of different sexes or of the same sex".
Supporters say France has fallen behind the curve on gay rights, as nearby countries like Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands have legalised gay marriage.
Earlier this year, France's highest court ruled that laws banning gay marriage don't violate the constitution. The esteemed Constitutional Court said any change would be up to parliament to decide.
In France, same-sex couples can form civil unions, but those do not confer inheritance rights or joint custody of goods, among other things.
France's very vocal gay rights groups say their efforts are making progress, crediting improving media coverage and role models like Mayor Bertrand Delanoe of Paris, who came out publicly years ago.
A January poll published by Canal Plus TV found 58 per cent of respondents in France believe gays should be able to marry, up from 45 per cent five years ago. No margin of error was given.