France’s constitutional court upheld the ban on gay marriage today after a challenge from a lesbian couple.

Corinne Cestino and Sophie Hasslauer, who have lived together for 15 years and have four children, asked for the right to marry but were turned down by the Constitutional Council.

Ms Cestino and Ms Hasslauer have a PACS (pacte civil de solidarité) but argued that they should be able to marry.

“It is not so much about getting married but about having the right to get married,” Ms Cestino, a paediatrician, told Associated Press.

“So, that is what we are asking for: just to be able, like anyone else, to choose to get married or not.”

The couple also told the AFP news agency that marriage was the only was to ensure the protection of the children, should one of them die.

But the court ruled that the ban did not breach the French constitution and said it was up to parliament whether to change the law.

France has had PACS since 1999. The civil unions are available to straight and gay couples but do not give all the rights of marriage.

A survey published today by TNS Sofres showed that 58 per cent of 950 respondents were in favour of gay marriage and 35 per cent were against.

In 2006, the same agency found that only 45 per cent of respondents agreed with giving gay couples the right to marry.

Seven European states – Norway, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, Sweden and Iceland – allow gay couples to marry.

Others, such as the UK and Germany, allow civil partnerships or unions.

A fight is currently underway in the UK to give gay and straight couples the right to choose either marriage or civil partnerships.

The Equal Love campaign, led by Peter Tatchell, plans to go to court this year.