A politician who is on course to become the next President of France has spoken out against the anti-gay rhetoric of the Roman Catholic church.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the UMP candidate for the Presidency, has maintained a consistent lead over his main rival, the Socialist Segolene Royal.

The first round of elections are held on 22nd April.

Speaking to La Liberation newspaper, Sarkozy, who was until last month the French Interior Minister, said the church’s position on gays was shocking.

“I was born heterosexual. I have never questioned myself about the choice of my sexuality. That is why the church’s position, which consists of saying “Homosexuality is a sin,” is shocking,” he told the newspaper.

“One doesn’t choose one’s identity. One has the identity that one has.”

M Sarkozy also shared his opinions on the nature of sexuality:

“Not everything depends on nurture, but that part could be nature. In what proportion? I am not a scientist.

“For example, when I was a child I was shocked because people explained to me, when a child was homosexual: “His mother was wrong, she slept with him.”

“When a child was anorexic, people said: “The father was absent.”

“When a child was autistic, people said: “Oh! The parents got divorced, that caused a shock.” Since then we know that autism is genetic. I think that sexuality also is an identity.”

Despite his criticism of the Roman Catholic church, M Sarkozy has made clear his own opposition to gay rights.

In a February TV debate he said he is opposed to any form of gay marriage.

He has promised new adoption rights for gay couples and improved financial arrangements.

Polling carried out in June 2006 suggests that the French population might support his Socialist opponent’s policies on gay rights.

The 53-year-old Royal would become France’s first woman president if elected.

Proposition 87 of her manifesto demands equal rights for same-sex couples, paving the way for future anti-discrimination legislation.

A 2006 Ipsos survey shows that 62% of French voters support gay marriage, while 37% were opposed.

When asked whether same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt children, the survey found more people to be in opposition (55%) than in support (44%).

The French will go to the polls to elect their next President on 22nd April. Around 11 candidates are expected to run alongside Royal and Sarkozy.

The election is a run-off, with the top two candidates go forward to a second election.

In 2002, fascist candidate Jean Marie Le Pen managed to get to the second round, which meant that Chirac was re-elected by a huge 82.2% of the vote.

Le Pen is running again in 2007.

Since a change in the law in 2000, French presidential terms run for five years, instead of the previous seven.