A majority of French citizens want to vote on a proposed gay marriage bill.

According to a poll of 1,008 people released Thursday by the French Institute of Public Opinion, sixty-nine percent of respondents want a referendum on the issue.

The Socialist government of Francois Hollande in November sent a proposed plan to legalize marriage and adoption for gay couples to lawmakers for debate. The National Assembly is expected to start examining the legislation at the end of this month, and a vote could come by mid-2013.

Strong opposition appears to have taken the government by surprise.

Demonstrations in opposition to legalizing gay nuptials have attracted a greater number of people than rallies in support of making France the twelfth and most influential nation so far to extend marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples.

Leading the opposition is the Roman Catholic Church, whose leader, Pope Benedict XVI, has called on French Catholics to “defend marriage.” Paris Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois labeled the reform “a fraud.”

(Related: Pope Benedict XVI calls on the French Church to fight gay marriage.)