IVF for Same-sex Couples: France’s Next Frontier?
Carmen Hall, University of Manchester
‘Une mère et un père: Il n’ya rien de mieux pour un enfant’; ‘Non à la démolition de la famille’
(‘A mother and a father: there is nothing better for a child’; ‘No to the demolition of the family’)
On the 5th of October, protesters from the group ‘Manif pour Tous’ (‘Demonstration for All’) gathered in Paris and Bordeaux to denounce a legal loophole that has recently made it possible for homosexuals to adopt children conceived through IVF abroad. The changes in IVF laws for same-sex couples made by the Court of Cassation (France’s Court of last instance) seem to mark the beginning of the next legal frontier for gay rights in France.
Eighteen months ago the ‘Taubira law’ (‘Loi Taubira’) which legalised gay marriage and adoption was passed under Francois Hollande’s government in the face of significant public controversy. Despite majority support for the Tuabira law there was also significant backlash among staunch conservatives and religious Christians. The influence of Catholicism in France means that many French people continue to have conservative views on sexual matters. The introduction of gay marriage has changed the traditional concept of the nuclear heterosexual family, one which some within the French population regards as the ‘base of society’. Some of the more sophisticated attempts to oppose the same-sex marriage bill quoted a long list of natural rights thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas. However natural rights are no longer influential in French jurisprudence. Legal scholars view the Taubira law as part of the country’s final stages in a process of secularisation that has been taking place over the last two centuries.
However, marriage in France – as with much of the rest of Western Europe – is also a dwindling institution. Increasingly French couples are shunning traditional marriages in favour of civil unions, known as Pacte Civil de Solidarité, or PACS. These alternatives to marriage are increasingly popular; two civil unions now exist for every three marriages.
The creation of PACS was intended to confer rights to homosexual couples similar to marriage. However, PACS were unsatisfactory for homosexual couples who wished to adopt children as, unlike marriage, they were exclusively about the relationship between the two parties to the PACS and do not grant parenting rights. Ultimately the original purpose of PACS was to separate the institution of marriage from that of homosexual unions. Yet interestingly, just one year after the law was passed over 75% of the unions formed were actually heterosexual. Given the increase in heterosexual civil unions over the past decade marriage has potentially become an institution reserved for the more conservative sections of the French population. As such, it could be argued that the controversy around the granting of marriage status to homosexual unions by the Taubira law was in part because the policy encroached on what has now become an increasingly traditional institution.
Having passed the same sex marriage and adoption laws it is surprising that the French government’s stance on IVF for same-sex couples remains so strict; it is currently unavailable to them. This may reflect an underlying French conservatism about same sex parenting compared to same sex relationship recognition; according to a February 2013 lftop poll a larger percentage of the French population believe that homosexuals should be allowed to be wed than to adopt. Many on the conservative right oppose the availability of fertility treatment to gay couples, which under French law are currently only available to heterosexual couples who have been married for more than two years.
However, the French courts in recent months have taken steps to allow for the legal adoption of children conceived by same-sex couples through IVF in other countries. In May 2014, a ruling of a lower court in Versailles resulted in a married French woman being denied the right to adopt the child that she and her same-sex partner had conceived via IVF treatment carried out in Belgium. The court’s reasoning was that this act would ‘defraud’ the French law that prevents lesbians from access to medically assisted procreation. However, in September 2014 a ruling issued by the Court of Cassation on the same matter ruled that the French authorities must allow adoption of a child regardless of how the child was conceived. Although the Court of Cassation jurisprudence is not binding it gives clear guidance on other IVF adoption cases involving same-sex couples. In fact figures from the French Ministry of Justice in the past year reveal that the May ruling was an anomaly; 281 out of 295 lesbian couples who conceived a child through IVF abroad since the Taubira law was passed were able to adopt the child. This amounts to 95% of all cases. Hence the Court of Cassation ruling to allow adoption of a child despite claims of ‘illegal conception’ gives an obvious signal to lesbian couples to go ahead with the procedure. The legal loophole created by this decision was the cause for fresh alarm that led to the ‘Manif pour Tous’ protests.
The protests of ‘Manif pour Tous’ have been well organised from the start and last week was no exception. The focus of the campaign has changed; having given up on trying to overturn the 2013 law (at least until the next election in 2017) they have instead turned to doing everything possible to restrict the access of homosexuals to alternative forms of conception. It needs to be acknowledged that there is a fundamental inconsistency in allowing same sex marriage and adoption yet preventing same sex couples from accessing assisted methods for the creation of a family unit. For now the question that remains is whether Francois Hollande’s government will dare go further in the face of this recent backlash.
‘Is porn making addicts of our sons?’ I’m afraid so!
Bilal Muneer, University of Manchester
Last year an article entitled Porn is making addicts of our sons… but is it? appeared in volume 21 of Inherently Brief. The article offered no definitive answer to the question it posed, but it did question the evidential basis of a news story highlighting pornography’s long term effects on children, before noting that research on the effects of pornography is still in its infancy and therefore unreliable. This piece takes a rather different view on the effects of pornography, especially on men and boys.
It seems that pornography is always in the news, the focus recently having shifted from ‘extreme’ pornography, to ISP regulation and now to revenge porn. However, this incessant concern about porn too often misses the point, by overlooking the obvious; that pornography is predominately (although not entirely) a male preoccupation. And men I believe, counter to many dominance feminist perspectives, are as much victims of pornography as are the women it exploits.
Hugh’s initial experience of pornography could be characterised as the standard male experience. At the impressionable age of 8, he happened upon a stash of the ‘confronting’ yet ‘enthralling’ stuff. As the BBC documentary Porn: What’s the Harm? highlights, the experience of confronting pornography is common to both sexes, but the transfixing experience of enthrallment is far more common to the male psyche. According to a survey that featured in the documentary, the vast majority of male teenagers use pornography for pleasure or as a masturbatory-aide, whilst most females of the same age range use it as a sex-education tool.
And in today’s world of anonymous, no-questions-asked, handheld cyber-porn, it is becoming ever easier for increasingly younger males to fall into addiction. PsychCentral recently cited a Canadian poll in which 33 percent of 18-30 year olds believed they were addicted to pornography, and a further 54 percent of 16-21 year olds reported orgasm, libido and erectile dysfunction problems, figures higher than those reported by middle-aged men. Cyber-porn, according to the article, is a ‘supernormal stimulus’ which can radically impair the brain’s reptilian reward system.
Many, like Hugh, suffer in silence until they are confronted about their addiction. As in Hugh’s experience, confrontation often places serious strains on relationships, and as Pamela Paul has documented in her book Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families, it can often lead to the breakup of families and relationships.
And this is precisely the issue: the problem of the effects of ‘vanilla’ pornography on the young male mind is superficially glossed over by social commentators, who if they tackle the subject, promote laissez faire regulation policies, and take care to portray adult pornography as the holy grail of the sexually repressed. The growing body of evidence which details the dangers of pornography is ignored, and when sufferers are taken to task for their behaviours their relationships suffer doubly.
Pornography is making addicts of our sons, and it’s time we come to terms with what that really means.
Apple and Facebook offer new ‘benefit’ to women
Elyssa Liu Jiawen, University of Manchester
Tech giants Apple and Facebook have included the funding of cryopreservation (the freezing of eggs) as a new benefit for their female employees, a move that has garnered both support and strong criticism.
The policy’s aim to encourage and assist female employees to focus on their careers by delaying childbirth is seen by many as empowering for women, particularly because workplace inflexibility is one of the key reasons women delay childbirth, as highlighted by the Fertility and Sterility Study conducted in 2013. By giving female employees a choice to put off conceiving a child until it is convenient for them, they can then commit to the same number of working hours and focus on their careers to the same extent as their male counterparts, thus advancing their monetary position and narrowing the highly prominent gender gap in the tech industry.
However, the policy has also been criticised as a myopic and inadequate move because enabling the delay of childbirth is unlikely to affect the gender pay difference which exists regardless of whether female employees have children or not. Many have also found it offensive that the tech giants intend to cover the costs of cryopreservation but are less willing to enable women who do not wish to delay childbirth to work flexibly and to access maternity leave benefits. This new “perk” has also raised concerns over potential unhealthy pressure on female employees to delay childbirth and what this may mean for those who choose not to do so.
Is striving to make women biologically more similar to men so that they can work more in their prime years empowering… or the complete opposite?