The Socialist government of Francois Hollande on Wednesday approved a proposed plan to legalize marriage and adoption for gay couples by early 2013.

Hollande's top Cabinet ministers approved the bill, sending it to lawmakers for debate.

The move defies opponents who have sharply condemned the proposal. Its largest opponent is the Roman Catholic Church, whose head, Pope Benedict XVI, has called on Catholics to “defend marriage.” Paris Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois labeled the reform “a fraud.”

Conservative UMP Senator Serge Dassault called the proposed legislation “the end of the family.”

“It's the end of the family, the end of children's development, the end of education,” Dassault lamented on the radio show France Culture. “It's an enormous danger to the nation.”

Family Minister Dominique Bertinotti defended the reform, saying it was “an important step towards equality of rights.”

While 11 countries have legalized marriage equality, none rival the economic and diplomatic influence of France.

The move comes a day after supporters made big gains at the polls in the United States and Spain's top court ruled in favor of the nation's law.