One of France's highest courts ruled on Friday that children born to surrogates abroad have the right to have their births and citizenship recognised by the state.
The ruling is something of a landmark for France, which has an outright ban on surrogacy, and has until now left such children living in legal limbo.
Children born to surrogates abroad could not previously obtain any legal status in the country, including a legal connection to their parents or a passport, nor could they register for any state benefits such as healthcare.
'Children shouldn't have to answer for their method of conception. They have a right to their civil status and to an identity,' commented France's justice minister Christiane Taubira, who also introduced the country's same-sex marriage legislation.
Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the refusal to transcribe a child born overseas to a French parent into the French birth registry contravenes the right of the child to establish an identity (see BioNews 761).
In the current case, the Cour de Cassation was examining the separate cases of two gay men who fathered children born to surrogates in Russia. Over the last 10 years the court had repeatedly refused to recognise surrogate children, referring to them as having been born through a fraudulent process. However, in the latest ruling, it stated: 'Surrogate motherhood alone cannot justify the refusal to transcribe into French birth registers the foreign birth certificate of a child who has one French parent'.
While some commentators hope that the ruling could lead to greater acceptance and easier lives for people in 'new' family forms, others said that the Cour de Cassation did not go far enough, as only the biological father, in addition to the birth mother, will be allowed on French birth certificates.
The next round of battles will likely be to allow full adoption rights to the 'second' father, in the case of gay couples, or to the 'social' mother, in the case of heterosexual couples who have turned to surrogacy. In the first instance, such cases will be dealt with by civil courts in individual jurisdictions within France.
Proposed amendments to surrogacy law have attracted a vocal opposition in France who suspect that the legislation is a 'Trojan horse', aimed to usher in the legalisation of surrogacy.
Ludovine de La Rochère, president of La Manif Pour Tous, a French protest organisation which has opposed changes to family law such as gay marriage, said that with the ruling, 'The judges have acknowledged that a child can be the subject of a contract even before its conception, reducing it to a thing that can be bought or sold: it's a major social regression'.