The French parliament has rejected a bill designed to give gay couples the right to marry.

Today, lawmakers voted by 293 votes to 222 to block the bill, which was not expected to pass.

In January, the country’s constitutional court upheld the ban on gay marriage 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.

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 on the day of the court verdict 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.