Paris, Feb 25: France's top court ruled that both partners in a homosexual couple can exercise parental authority over a child, rather than just the biological parent.
The ruling by the Cour de Cassation, which decides how to interpret French law but does not hear trials, could open the way for further debate in France on gay marriage and the adoption of children by same-sex couples, which remains illegal.
"The civil code is not opposed to a mother, as sole holder of the parental authority, delegating all or part of the duties to the woman with whom she lives in a stable and continuous union", the court said in its verdict yesterday.
The decision also applied to male homosexual couples, where one of the partners was the biological father of a child.
The court said the right for same-sex couples to jointly exercise parental authority depended on the circumstances requiring such an arrangement and that it must be in the child's best interests.
Until now, French courts have ruled that the law only allowed parental responsibility to be delegated to a person other than the biological parents in unusual cases. This was not regarded as sufficient to include homosexual couples.
Yesterday's ruling came as the first French same-sex couple to form a civil union, a right which the then Socialist-led government granted in 1999 got married in Belgium.
"It's a shame to have to go abroad to get married", said Dominique Adamski, 52, who married Francis Sekens, 60, in Mouscron, a small Belgian town just over the border from France.
The present, conservative government opposes gay marriage and does not allow same-sex couples to adopt children, but has given homosexual couples who form a civil union more financial rights.