French President Francois Hollande has privately conceded that the religious opponents of his equal marriage plans are proving to be “tough”.

The embattled French leader, whose popularity has plunged since taking office six months ago, made the comment to Jean-Luc Romero, one of the country’s prominent gay politicians, during a ceremony at the Elysee Palace last week.

On Wednesday, President Holland’s government will officially unveil the country’s proposed draft equal marriage bill, after it is presented to the cabinet.

If all goes well, the French Parliament will then vote on the bill in early 2013.

Political pressure from France’s Catholic Church has started to reach a crescendo.

Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, the Archbishop of Paris, has called on President Hollande to drop the reform.

Opponents threaten to bring a million protesters on to the streets of Paris in a rerun of the demonstrations that blocked President Francois Mitterrand’s attempt to abolish Catholic schools in 1984.

It has also exposed cultural divisions between politicians in rural constituencies, where there is less support for equal marriage, and those in more metropolitan areas.

Even in Paris, figures such as district mayor Francois Lebel have stoked fears that equal marriage could lead to decline of French society.

It is against this politically fraught atmosphere that support for equal marriage, whilst still overwhelmingly popular with the French electorate as a whole, has taken a hit.

A poll shows support for equal marriage in the country has fallen by 5% in the past year.