Thousands of demonstrators turned up to rally at the National Assembly in Paris on Wednesday evening to show support for equal marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples.

Earlier in the day, French President Francois Hollande’s government approved a bill to legalise equal marriage and allow gay couples to adopt.

Demonstrators chanted “equality now” to show their support for the reform, opposed by more than 1,000 mayors and France’s Catholic Church, the bill will be debated by parliament in January 2013.

President Hollande told his cabinet that the bill would mean “progress not only for individuals but for the whole of society”.

One couple, Karin and Karoline, had never attended a rally before, but wanted to support equal marriage, and adoption rights for gay people. Karoline said:

“This is the first time for this cause, because of today’s announcement. We learned about the rally from Facebook events, and we have a lot of friends who sent invitations to us.

“There is a lot of hypocrisy around all of this in the media, other people, and from the church.”

Karin said that the bill is important, but is more of a legal formality, as many lesbian couples already had children. She said:

“We’re a changing society. A lot of lesbian couples already have children, so it’s just a legal thing. It’s really important for us.”

Another attendee of the rally, Emmanuelle, and an employee of AIDES,  an organisation that provides support and guidance for people diagnosed with HIV, spoke about her organisation’s support for the bill. She said:

“I think many people want the bill to pass. A big percentage of people already support it, and I know the majority of people support equal rights.”

Last week, President Hollande conceded that the religious opponents of his equal marriage plans were proving to be “tough” to deal with.

The 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.

The latest poll by Le Monde newspaper, showed that 65% of French people supported equal marriage, and 52% of people supported the right of gay couples to adopt, but Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party has said it would repeal the law if it returns to power.

The UMP senator Serge Dassault told French Radio that same-sex marriage and adoption would be “the end of the family, the end of children’s development, the end of education. It’s an enormous danger to the nation.”