French officials kicked off on a controversial new bill on Wednesday that would recognize gay marriage on a federal level. If the legislation passes next year, as is expected, France will become the wealthiest and most powerful country yet to fully legalize same-sex nuptials.

Socialist President Francois Hollande and his cabinet approved a draft of the bill on Wednesday; from there, the bill will be debated in the Socialist-dominated parliament and should be approved before mid-2013.

Delays are to be expected; in this majority-Catholic country, some defenders of traditional marriage are outraged over the legislation.

“It’s the end of the family, the end of children’s development, the end of education. It’s an enormous danger to the nation,” said conservative Senator Serge Dassault, according to the Associated Press.

Dassault’s emphasis on family is fitting since the most heated controversy over this bill has more to do children than with couples. Polls show that most French citizens approve of gay marriage, but the country is split fairly evenly between those who think same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt, and those who would prohibit it.

Gay adoption has been loudly decried at dozens of rallies that have erupted across France this past month to protest the bill.

In a nod to sensitivities about family dynamics, the draft approved by the cabinet on Wednesday does not allow state funds to be spent on assisting gay couples with artificial insemination, something heterosexual couples are eligible for.

Still, Hollande lauded the bill as a step in the right direction. He said it represented “progress not just for some, but for society as a whole,” according to Bloomberg.

If the measure passes, France would join a growing list of countries that allow gay marriage at the federal level; the others are the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina and Denmark.

Same-sex marriages take place in the U.S., but the unions are not recognized federally and have been constitutionally banned in 39 states, according to CNN. Gay marriage is legal in just eight U.S. states -- including Maine and Maryland, which just voted allow the unions on Tuesday -- as well as the District of Columbia.