A bill which seeks to make France the 12th and most influential country so far to legalize gay marriage was presented Tuesday to Parliament for debate.

The bill constitutes an “act of equality,” Justice Minister Christiane Taubira told the national assembly in presenting the measure. “Finally, marriage will be a universal institution.”

“We have never underestimated the importance of this reform,” she added.

President Francois Hollande campaigned on a pledge to extend marriage and adoption rights to gay and lesbian couples. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy never made good during his tenure on a pledge to reform PACS, a form of domestic partnership which offers significantly fewer protections to gay couples than marriage, into something closer to Britain's civil partnership.

The Roman Catholic Church has vociferously objected to the government's plans, sending hundreds of thousands of people into the streets of Paris to protest. Supporters over the weekend countered with their own Paris rally, which drew 125,000 demonstrators, police estimated.

According to a recent survey, a majority (63%) of French support marriage equality.

Parliament is expected to debate the bill over the next two weeks.