Thousands of people thronged the streets of Paris on Sunday to protest a government-proposed bill that would allow single women and lesbian couples the same access to medically assisted fertility treatments as heterosexual couples, including IVF.
“It’s not normal,” 27-year-old mother-to-be Charlotte from Paris told FRANCE 24 as she and her husband, who wished not to be identified for fear of harming his chances of finding employment if publicly associated with the conservative movement, joined the march against the proposed law.
“What worries me is that if we accept that a child doesn’t need to have a father in its life, then we create a society where children no longer have any benchmarks,” she said, grimacing at the thought of one day having to explain to her own child why some children grow up with two mothers and no father.
Sunday’s demonstration made its way from the French senate to the Montparnasse tower in central Paris and was organised by around a dozen conservative and religious groups, including the “Manif Pour Tous” movement and the Alliance for Catholic Families, which spearheaded the protests against former president Francois Hollande’s gay marriage bill in 2013.
While organisers put the number of participants at around 600,000, an independent auditor commissioned by French media groups put the number of demonstrators at 74,500.
Music and hotdog stands
Waving red and green flags with the message “Liberty, Equality and Paternity”, and home-made signs with texts like “Papa Maman, there’s nothing better for a child” and “Everyone is born from a man and a woman”, many of the protesters had brought their children along to the carnival-like rally, which also contained pop-up hotdog and waffle stands to serve hungry participants. Popular songs, like Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” and the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” blared from the loudspeakers as organisers encouraged protesters to call at least 10 people in their phone lists to come and join the protest “for the sake of the rights of the child”.
In order to boost protest numbers, organisers had arranged for 110 coaches and two high-speed trains to bring people from all over France to the capital to demonstrate.
Xavier Poinsard, a 45-year-old father “of many children” from the city of Sens, 120 kilometres south of Paris, said he had helped organise buses and carpooling to the demonstration for at least 150 people.
Volunteer security guards
Despite a heavy police presence, a group of around 10 men had taken it upon themselves to provide their own security services during the demonstration. Wearing bright orange armbands with the text “securité marchons enfants” (security marching for children) and equipped with grey helmets and black gloves, they said that they were there purely as volunteers.
Some protesters have taken it upon themselves to provide ”security” services. @MelissaBarrra @FRANCE24 #pma #map pic.twitter.com/LTP1kprxBU— louise nordstrom (@LouiseInParis) October 6, 2019
A small counter-demonstration was held in support of the bill on the sidelines of the bigger protest on Sunday, but no violence was reported.
The protest comes ten days after French lawmakers voted in favour of President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed MAP (medically assisted procreation) law which would, if approved by the senate later this autumn, hand single women and lesbian couples the same access to fertility treatments as married heterosexual couples.
Those opposing the bill argue that the law would deprive children of a necessary paternal figure and would threaten the traditional family structure.
Many priests in attendance
Sporting a yellow vest – the symbolic reflective vest representing France’s Yellow Vest movement - Pascal Lefebre, 57, said he and his wife had joined the demonstration because they “oppose MAP in all forms”, noting that it’s simply “against nature”.
“First, you’re going to make children without a father and then you’re going to start making children without any parents at all. It’s going to end badly,” he said, adding that France’s healthcare system was set up to “treat people, not be used for these kind of things”.
Under the proposed law, the French healthcare system will foot the bill for all women, regardless of their sexual orientation or marital status, under the age of 43 that want to undergo fertility treatment.
It would also allow for children who have been conceived through sperm donation to find out the identity of their donor once they turn 18.
Frédéric Desquilbet, one of the many Catholic priests attending Sunday’s demonstration, said he was there to protest the bill because “it’s a question of the conception of human kind. Our society will pay very dearly for this imbalance.”