The highest court in France yesterday ruled that both members of a gay couple are entitled to exercise parental authority over a child, rather than just the biological parent.

The Cour de Cassation, decides how French law should be interpreted but does not hear actual trials. The decision is likely to open the way for further debate in France over the rights of gay couples in terms of marriage and adoption, which remains illegal.

“The civil code is not opposed to a mother, as sole holder of the parental authority, delegating all or part of the duties to the woman with whom she lives in a stable and continuous union,” the court said in its verdict which also applies to gay male couples where one partner is the biological parent of a child.

The court also decided that the right for gay couples to exercise parental authority must be balanced with the best interests of a child.

Prior to yesterday’s ruling, French courts have only delegated parental responsibility to a person other than a biological or adoptive parent in very rare and unusual circumstances.

The ruling coincided with the first gay marriage to be held by a French couple. However, the ceremony took place in neighbouring Belgium.

“It’s a shame to have to go abroad to get married,” said Dominique Adamski, 52, who married Francis Sekens, 60, in Mouscron, a small Belgian town just over the border from France.

The French government does offer financial rights and responsibilities to gay couples who have entered into a civil union.