French President Francois Hollande has suggested that mayors who oppose equal marriage should be allowed to personally opt-out from pending legislation.

Mr Hollande made the comments on Tuesday at a national mayors’ conference.

According to France 24, Mr Hollande said he respected mayors’ “freedom of conscience” and suggested the possibility of allowing them to delegate responsibility to councillors if they had a personal objection to marrying gay couples.

However, the move has sparked widespread alarm by French equal marriage activists, with many fearing the president is succumbing to political pressure by opponents.

Nicolas Gougain of the Inter-LGBT association told AFP: “I don’t understand how it would be possible to justify a law that wasn’t applied everywhere in France.”

In a statement the organisation said it was “suspending all relations with the government” until President Hollande explained “what at best can be termed a clumsy act and at worse, treachery.”

Last weekend, around 70,000 people took to the streets of Paris to protest against plans to legalise marriage rights for French gay couples.

The reform, opposed by more than 1,000 mayors and France’s Catholic Church, will be debated by parliament in January 2013.

All couples getting married in France are obliged to undergo a civil ceremony – even if they plan to have a church wedding.

The ceremonies are mostly officiated by mayors, who can be replaced by their deputies.

In the south-western Languedoc Roussillon region, one in five mayors said they would refuse to marry gay couples, according to a poll by local daily newspaper Midi Libre.