The lower house of the French parliament on Tuesday approved a controversial bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry and adopt children.
The measure was passed 329 to 229 in a vote by the Socialists-dominated French National Assembly, with 10 abstentions.
The legislation now heads to the Senate, which is also controlled by President Francois Hollande's Socialists Party. If approved, France would become the 12th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, joining the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Spain, Argentina, Canada and South Africa . Six states in United States also allow gay marriages.
Socialist representative Corinne Narassiguin called the law a "first necessary step, a social evolution that benefits society overall."
"Opening up marriage and adoption to homosexual couples is a very beautiful advance," she added. "It is an emblematic vote, a vote that will mark history."
The vote comes after 10 days after French lawmakers voted to approve a key amendment in the bill which redefines marriage as a contract between two people rather than between one man and one woman.
France has long been a homeland for the Roman Catholic tradition, but polls show that a comfortable majority of the French population approves gay marriage but support was not as strong for adoptions by gay couples.
Gay men and women can already adopt children as individuals.
The French National Assembly voted against same-sex marriage in 2011 but Hollande has strongly advocated for the legislation, an election promise he made last year.
Supporters of the bill, which held a rally of 125,000 to 400,000 last month, say it is a matter of equality rights.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church and social conservatives have strongly opposed to the bill, arguing that the legalization of same-sex marriage would erode the family and society. Prior to the pro-gay rally last month, opponents held their own rally protesting the gay marriage bill with crowds of 340,000 to 800,000 people.
A similar rally opposing the legislation will be held next month.
Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, and Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, the archbishop of Paris, have both spoken out against the government's plans to redefine marriage. Barbarin said gay marriage would open the door to incest and polygamy while Vingt-Trois was concerned it would undermine the foundation of society.
Religious leaders representing Muslims, Jews and Buddhists, have also expressed their disapproval of the legislation. They are joined by many lawmakers and hundreds of mayors across France.
The Senate will begin debate on the bill on April 2.
The proposed law has elicited strong comments on both sides.
Addressing the assembly before the vote, Socialist Party spokesman Thierry Mandon called the vote a "proud moment for equality".
From the conservative side, Union for a Popular Movement senator Serge Dassault warned that homosexuality would lead to the demise of France, as it did in Greece.
"We'll have a land of homos," Dassault said. "And then in 10 years there will be no-one left. It's stupid."
France joins the United Kingdom in becoming the largest European countries to take up gay marriage. Last week, the House of Commons issued a preliminary approval on a measure to legalize same-sex marriage. The U.K. bill will now go the a committee and may later head to the House of Lords.
The Church of England is among the religious bodies opposed to the UK legislation.