But, when the crowd began chanting “Repeal! Repeal”, he responded, “”If you’d prefer me to say ‘repeal the law’ … it comes down to the same thing.”
Sarkozy is campaigning for the leadership of the right-wing UMP party but the bid is generally believed to be part of an attempt to become the mainstream right presidential candidate in 2017.
The Sens Commun (Common Sense) group, an offshoot of last year’s anti-gay marriage campaign that recruits UMP members, invited all three candidates for party leader – Sarkozy, Hervé Mariton and Bruno Le Maire – to address a meeting on Saturday, although refused to debate with his rivals.
Mariton, who had already said he was in favour of repeal, was cheered when he repeated his call, while Le Maire was booed for telling the 3,000-strong crowd that he would not change it because “homosexuals have the same rights as everybody else”.
Sarkozy, who promised to introduce a civil union for gays during the 2007 election campaign but never did so, had been equivocal on the question until Saturday but won applause when he finally told his audience what they wanted to hear, reportedly much to Mariton’s disgust.
President François Hollande, in Australia for the G20 summit and an official visit, told reporters that he would not comment on “a political party’s internal campaign” but went on to call for calm and consensus and point out that the law has been put into practice “without problems”.
Socialist Party spokesperson Corinne Narassiguin was less restrained.
Sarkozy is proposing “a form of segregation”, she said on Sunday.
“Obsessed with winning a crushing vote for the presidency of his party, he has again chosen to play to the most reactionary instincts of his activist base,” she told the AFP news agency.
An opinion poll published Saturday showed 68 per cent of French people in favour of same-sex unions and 53 per cent in favour of adoption by homosexual couples.
In private Sarkozy has said he “couldn’t care less” about the question, RFI’s website in French reports.