Brandishing placards and flags proclaiming, “Humans are not a commodity” and “No to the demolition of the family,” tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Paris Sunday to oppose what they call the government’s “anti-family” policies.
As the march made its way through the affluent neighbourhoods of west Paris, some residents hung banners of support and cheered on the demonstrators from their windows.
The protesters, including a mix of hardline Catholics and traditional conservatives, declared their opposition to a number of causes, including surrogate mothers and artificial insemination technology for non-married couples.
Above all, the demonstrators wanted to deliver the message that “all children need a mother and a father,” said Caroline, a 54-year-old retiree from Paris, as she waved a flag with a picture of a man, a woman and two children standing hand-in-hand – the symbol of the Manif pour Tous movement that organised the rally.
“It is something that is commanded by nature, it is a fundamental right for a child,” she added.
Manif pour Tous was behind a number of often fierce, sometimes violent and ultimately unsuccessful protests against France’s legalizing of gay marriage in May 2013.
A protester waves a 'Manif pour Tous' flag
Literally translated as “The protest for all,” Manif pour Tous is a play on “Marriage Pour Tous” – the name of the 2013 gay marriage law, which triggered hundreds of thousands to take to the streets across France.
Those protests failed to stop the bill passing, however, and polls now show the majority of French people support same-sex marriage.
Manif pour Tous supporters are still calling for the gay-marriage act to be repealed, but are now also waging a general war against what they call the French government’s “familyphobia”.
“I’m here to tell the government that what they are doing is wrong,” said one protester, a 49-year-old engineer from Paris named Frederic. “They are destroying the family, the roots of the family and of French society.”
Critics however say many of their fears are unfounded.
Sunday’s march was triggered in part by a September court ruling that allows married lesbians to adopt their partner's child born through medically assisted reproduction or surrogacy that happened outside of France.
There is also discussion on reversing the ban on lesbian couples from using assisted reproductive technology to have children within France.
However, surrogate motherhood, for both hetero and homosexual couples, remains illegal in France and couples have to go abroad if they want to have a child in this way.
Furthermore, medically assisted reproduction, such as in vitro fertilization, is only available for heterosexual couples who have been married for at least two years.
The government vows it has no plans to change this status quo, with Prime Minister Manuel Valls Friday describing surrogate motherhood as “an intolerable commercialisation of human beings and commodification of women’s bodies”.
Surrogate motherhood “is and will be banned in France”, Valls told Catholic daily La Croix.
It was a major U-turn for the prime minister, who in 2011 described surrogate motherhood as “inevitable development”.
But this did little to quell the ire of the protesters.
“We don’t want words, we want acts,” said one woman, who asked not to be named. “We want it written into the constitution that surrogacy and medically assisted reproduction are banned, both in France and for French citizens abroad.”
‘Children told they can choose their sex’
Another gripe of the Manif pour Tous movement is the teaching in French schools of so-called “gender theory” – the notion that children can adopt the gender of their choice, rather than conform to ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ stereotypes.
But politicians as well as parent-teacher associations have insisted that “gender theory” is a myth, something that has never been taught, nor never will be taught, in French schools
However, the protesters said it is the government that is refusing to tell the truth.
“The government says that gender theory is an invention, that it doesn’t exist, but we can see it in the books children study at school, in the videos they are shown,” says 24-year-old Aude, a teacher at a primary school in Paris.
Standing next to her, her friend Alix, a 19-year-old psychology student, agrees.
“There are science books that tell children they can choose their gender,” she says. Children come home and ask their parents: ‘Am I a boy or a girl?’.”
Organisers said some 500,000 people attended Wednesday’s rally, with a simultaneous demonstration taking place in Bordeaux. Police put the figure at 70,000.
It is significantly less than the 1.4 million people Manif pour Tous said turned out for one of its anti-gay marriage protests last year.
Meanwhile, an Ifop poll for the Atlantico website on Sunday showed that less than a third (31 percent) of French people supported the values of the demonstration.
In pictures: Protesters take to streets over French govt’s ‘familyphobia’
Protesters gather for the march near Porte Dauphine in the west of Paris. © Sam Ball / France 24
Signs are distributed to protesters along the demonstration route. © Sam Ball / France 24
Demonstrators stand behind a banner objecting to the teaching of so-called “gender theory” in schools. © Sam Ball / France 24
A young girl waves a “Manif pour Tous” flag. © Sam Ball / France 24
Protesters pass the Eiffel Tower. © Sam Ball / France 24
Demonstrators wear sweatshirts reading “anonymous mother” and “anonymous father” in protest against couples using surrogate mothers to have children. © Sam Ball / France 24
A woman and two young children cheer on the protesters from a balcony along the march route. © Sam Ball / France 24
Organisers say around 500,000 attended the rally, though police put the number at 70,000. © Sam Ball / France 24
Date created : 2014-10-05