The Socialist government of Francois Hollande has delayed the introduction of its gay marriage bill to the French cabinet.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault last week told the AFP that the proposal would be introduced on October 31.

“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.”

On Friday, the AP quoted Ayrault's office as saying that the date has been pushed back to November 7. Also, the debate in parliament is now expected to extend through January.

The moves come as religious leaders are increasingly speaking out against the plans.

Last month, Pope Benedict XVI called on Catholics in France to “defend marriage.”

“The family is threatened by a conception of human nature that is proven to be defective,” Benedict told a group of French bishops visiting Castel Gandolfo, the pope's summer residence located on the outskirts of Rome. “Marriage and the family are institutions that must be promoted and defended from every possible misrepresentation of their true nature, since whatever is harmful to them will in fact be injurious to society itself.”

On Thursday, France's Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim said he was opposed to the reform. Pressure is also mounting from more than 1,200 French mayors and their deputies who have pledged not to officiate over the ceremonies of gay couples.

Plans to make France the 12th country to legalize gay nuptials were set in motion in June when Socialists won control of both houses of Parliament, just weeks after Hollande, who campaigned on the issue, was elected to lead the nation.