Who Is This “Tous”

So, I’ve been waking up in the morning (Well, 2 am is morning, right?) and, in order to get my mind going in “French mode” rather than “English mode”, I’ve been looking at the French news. I don’t have any particular topics I’m following, just “actualités,” so I’ve been starting on the Google news (French mode is working – what is ramasser in English? Yes, I’ll go through a few days when I can’t speak either language.) aggregator page.

So, it seems that on Sunday, they will be having what is being billed as a “Manif pour tous,” or a “Demonstration For All,” an Orwellian term if I ever heard one. Since I had no idea what this “tous” was, I had to do a little digging. I was half expecting some sort of populist May Day in October parade. As far as I can figure, and my French is just shoddy enough that I appear to understand things but I have the permanent sense of uncertainty, the “Demonstration For All” is, in fact, a demonstration against “homoparentalité.”

Living in Canada, I became a little bit fascinated by, not the obvious cultural differences, like smoke meat instead of pastrami, but by the underlying assumptions. It frequently reveals itself when you find you’re talking, talking, talking and no one seems to understand what’s going on. It’s one of the reasons that I’m always objecting when people say that a culture is more or less liberal than another, or better or worse for atheists, or gays, or some other group. Whenever I scratch the surface, there’s often something far more complicated going on underneath. These issues are attached by invisible strings to an entire network of ideas, the deep grammar of the culture, if you will.

When I attended the demonstration in support of marriage equality in Paris in December 2012 (Golly, I feel like a regular international agitator or something.), I did notice that some people carried signs regarding assisted reproduction. Asking about, I was surprised to learn that various fertility treatments are limited by law to infertile, stable, heterosexual couples in France.

The man and woman of the couple must be alive, of reproductive age, married or able to prove 2 years’ living together and give consent prior to transfer of embryos or insemination.

This really quite surprised me because the American image of France is that they are more “liberal” than we are on social issues. The law is very specifically written to exclude single women and homosexual couples. If I may ride my hobby-horse for a moment longer, this is a good example of why simplistic terms like more or less, and better or worse are frequently inadequate to the point of deception when talking about large, amorphous, protean things like a culture.

Getting back to the subject, as reproductive technologies became more commonplace, the government of France underwent some years of examining the issue and then codified it in law, published in 1995.* The main concern of the law is to respect human beings, but as people do not exist without a culture, cultural assumptions are in it, mainly assumptions concerning parenthood, specifically motherhood, attitudes towards single mothers, including widows, attitudes towards homosexuality, assumptions about families, and attitudes towards adoption.

An interesting contrast regarding cultural attitudes can be found in some of the words used regarding adoption. Just now, I wanted to check what the current laws in France were regarding adoption. On the Wikipedia page on the subject, regarding who was eligible for adoption, I saw the expression, “la mere abandonne de son nourrisson.” This seems to be the phrase they use for reliquishing a child for adoption. In the U.S., for the past several decades, we haven’t used the word “abandon” in relation to people who put a child up for adoption because it is seen as having negative or judgemental connotation. It is also worth noting that adoption seems to be a far more recent phenomenon in France than in the U.S. Furthermore, they have two types of adoption in France, simple adoption and plenary adoption. Adoptions in the U.S. closely resemble French plenary adoptions, which only account for two-thirds of adoptions in the country. (France also has another concept called “filiation.” For the sake of simplicity, I’m skipping that for now.)

France has had since 1999 a form of civil union called PACS (pacte civile de solidarité) which was originally intended to recognize same sex unions but is now used by heterosexual couples as well. Strangely, to me at least, single people can adopt a child, but unmarried couples cannot, including couples in a PACS, nor can a person living with someone adopt a child as an individual. Therefore, one of the main issues regarding gay marriage in France was the ability to adopt. When the law regarding marriage equality was enacted in 2013, the ability to adopt a child together went along with it. The Justice Minister, Christiane Taubira, said, “We therefore open adoption to homosexual couples under the framework currently in place. They can, like others, adopt individually or together.” (If I understand correctly, a person can adopt a child as an individual if he or she is single or married, but not if he or she is living with someone. It gets really confusing to me. I hope I’m getting this right. Link to the French government website.)

Meanwhile, in the U.S. it can get really confusing because each state has different laws. Furthermore, many adoptions are done through private agencies, some of which are religious, and may have their own restrictions. According to the U.S. government website

Most people are eligible to adopt, regardless of whether they are married or single, their age, income, or sexual orientation.

However, the question of adoption by homosexual couples, as opposed to individuals becomes more complicated, especially in states that do not have marriage equality. 25 states permit unmarried couples to adopt jointly and have no statutes specifically addressing the sexual orientation of the adopting parents. The status of homosexual couples is uncertain in many of these states. 5 states have laws specifically restricting adoptions by same-sex couples. No state prohibits adoption by heterosexual singles, but two states prohibit adoption by gay or lesbian singles. (Okay, I got really side tracked looking up facts about adoption laws in the states because there’s too many. I’m going to stop here and just put up a link to the Human Rights Campaign’s website. As one website I saw mentioned, the laws have been changing frequently.)

Now, the thing that got me writing about this subject, and this post is already over a thousand words so I should get to the point, was an organization listed as one of the supporters of Manif pour Tous called “les Adoptés.” I will make no bones about the fact that, as an adopted person, this organization ticks me off. There are all sorts of groups that love to advertise how diverse they are, how little they have in common besides on or two little things. Well, I think no group may be more diverse than adoptees and beyond the notion that the best interests of the child should be considered I’d be surprised if we could come to much of a consensus on anything. However, the thing that really annoyed me about this group was the way they seem to me to deceive people into believing that they are an organization representing the interests of adoptees in a general way. In fact, their website doesn’t mention a single subject other than gay parenting. They are not, as far as I can tell, a group of adoptees, but a group of adoptees against gay marriage. As an adoptee who supports gay marriage, this sleight of hand ticks me off. The group wasn’t formed until marriage equality, and with it equality in adoption, was about to become law. They have nothing on their website that doesn’t relate to gay parenting. They do say on their About page that they were formed in the wake of Hollande’s election due to his position on gay marriage, still their name is very deceiving.

They say

If adoptees have differences and discussions on numerous subjects (secrecy about origins, medical information…), there is never the less a position common on the rights of children.

“Adoptees should not become a political game of chance.”

The bill on “homosexual marriage” hadn’t particularly attracted our attention before the presidential campaign. But the declarations of Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, at the end of June 2012, affirming that the “right to marriage and adoption for all would be soon instituted” served to detonate and accelerate the creation of a growing project.

They seem to imply a consensus on this subject that just doesn’t exist.

While searching for information for this post, I came across an interest blog post, by a fellow member of the atheist blogroll no less, that related to this subject and I thought was very interesting.

Zack Ford compares telling people that he is adopted to coming out of the closet.

I was adopted.

Are you surprised? A lot of people are when I reveal this super intimate detail. “Oh,  I didn’t know,” they say.

To answer your other questions: I’ve always known, and I have no interest in meeting my genetic parents. My parents are my parents and I love them very much. Oh, and yes, I do like to pretend I might be the second coming of Christ. (How do you know I’m not?)

But let’s step back. What was with that reaction to the news that I’m an adoptee? Do folks have certain expectations about adoptees that are disrupted by my coming out? Did they expect it would somehow be obvious, or that if they knew me well enough it would be something they could tell?

He then goes on to note that there is still a lot of stigma surrounding being adopted.

Now, of course, when it comes to gay and lesbian adoption, there is the added stickiness of archaic gender expectations. But fundamentally, most people who speak against adoption by same-sex couples use the same language that stigmatizes all adoptions.

He concludes with

Our problem isn’t people against gay adoption. Our problem is people against adoption. It’s the little bit of privilege and stigma revealed by the surprise when I tell someone I’m adopted—as if it’s some big deal (it’s not). People don’t trust adoption, and they use it as an excuse to attack same-sex couples in their family.

Next time you hear someone challenging gay adoption, go through all the motions. Remind them of all the data that proves they’re wrong. Show them pictures of loving families (like Scott, Robert, and Riley who I met at the National Equality March). Correct all their assumptions about the importance of gender roles. But then, make sure you also challenge them on adoption in general. The attacks on gay adoption aren’t just hurting same-sex couples; they hurt all of us connected to adoption and all the children waiting to be adopted.

While Zack Ford mentions the stigma in the United States, I’ve always felt it less here and in Canada than elsewhere. I remember once having a conversation with someone from Saudi Arabia and it took a lot of time to simply explain to him what the word adoption means. As much as there is a stigma here, I’m under the impression that North Americans are more comfortable with the subject than Europeans. Perhaps the concept of an individual flourishing without deep roots is less alien to us.

The different attitudes about the relationship among individuals, medical professionals and the state informs the question that is still unresolved, that of assisted reproduction for same-sex couples. During the last presidential campaign, the Socialist Party supported extending assisted reproduction to lesbian couples, a practice that has been common for a long time in the U.S. At home, I have a history of lesbianism in the U.S. that mentions a late-eighties / early-nineties baby boom. The difference in the laws in the two countries results from attitudes shaped by many things, not simply attitudes to gay rights.

* (This is a blog post not a doctoral thesis, so while I tried to do some reasearch, I may have missed major changes to the law. Here as ever, reader beware.)

I’ve tried my best to get the situation in France right in a short amount of time. If I’ve made any mistakes, let me know in the comments.

Addition: Just for fun, I thought I’d put up a link to the Wikipedia page for Smoked Meat.(There’s a “d” at the end. Who knew?) On the side bar, it said that it was part of a series on Canadian Cuisine. It was accompanied by a photo of a plate of La Poutine! Just thought I’d leave you with that image.

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