France's highest court ruled Friday that homosexual parents may extend parental rights to their partners, a move long sought by gay rights campaigners.

The Cour de Cassation approved such shared rights when the couple is living in a stable union and when it is in the child's best interests. The judges upheld a 2004 decision by an appeals court in Angers in central France.

It was the first time the high court granted such broad rights to a homosexual couple in France.

"It's a real victory," gay rights activist Christine le Douane said on LCI television.

The case centered around two women who registered a civil union in December 1999, after 10 years of living together. One of the partners gave birth to two daughters through artificial insemination, but only the birth mother had parental rights.

The birth mother sought legal permission to grant parental rights to her partner. A court in Angers ruled against her, but the appeals court ruled in her favor, saying that the absence of a legal father left the girls at risk in case their birth mother were incapacitated.

In its ruling Friday, the high court determined that France's civil code does not forbid a single mother from sharing all or part of her parental rights "with the woman with whom she lives in a stable and continuous union, as long as the circumstances demand it and as long as the move conforms to the child's best interest."

The court also noted that parental rights include the responsibilities for protecting children and caring for their health, welfare and education.