A lot of people seek their fortune in Las Vegas — but French couple Nicolas and Aurelien came in search of a different kind of jackpot.
The men, barred from accessing surrogacy services in their home country, journeyed to Vegas to become parents, a story that’s told in the new documentary Ghosts of the République, out today.
Americans often think of European countries as more progressive on LGBTQ+ issues and other personal matters, but that’s not always the reality. There was a right-wing outcry in France when the nation enacted marriage equality in 2013, and widespread discrimination makes it virtually impossible for same-sex couples to adopt.
Surrogacy services are banned for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples, for a variety of reasons. Some see surrogacy arrangements as ripping children from their mothers or as the exploitation and even enslavement of women. A French legislator says in the film that her country wants no part of this “brave new world.”
If French people use surrogacy services abroad to have children, the country does not recognize any legal relationship between them and the children, who are not granted French citizenship. The offspring are popularly known as “ghosts of the république,” the term that gives the film its name.
The movie from director Jonathon Narducci (produced by him and Jennifer Tocquigny, and executive-produced by Dan Savage) gives some time to surrogacy opponents, both in France and the U.S.; in the latter we see activists raising questions about physical consequences to the women who donate eggs after taking fertility drugs to increase production and about emotional consequences to the children and others. But mostly it’s a celebration of Nicolas and Aurelien, a charming couple who want badly to be fathers, and those who assist them in their quest.
We are introduced to Nicolas, a property manager, and Aurelien, a flight attendant, on their wedding day. They say that upon meeting, they quickly knew they found “the one,” and their love for each other is palpable, as is their love for children, as we see them interacting with the kids of family and friends.
Their desire for children brings them to Vegas, where they remark humorously on the replicas of French icons like the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, but where they also find connections that don’t involve the city’s famed fakery.
Aurelien and Nicolas with Crystal and Louise
They draw on the services of a clinic specializing in assisted reproduction and meet a candidate for egg donor, Diana, and one for surrogate, Crystal, who will carry the child conceived with Diana’s egg and Aurelien’s sperm. Nicolas and Aurelien explain to their families that having one woman donate the egg and another one go through the pregnancy avoids ethical objections about depriving a birth mother of her child. As the men did with each other, they feel an immediate affinity with the two women and choose them as “the one.” The film then tracks those involved through all the drama associated with the process.
“We’ve achieved marriage equality in the U.S. and other countries around the world, but today’s laws are far from clear when it comes to surrogacy, and that’s where things really get interesting,” Narducci says in his director’s statement. He adds, “The idea of what a family is, is one of the most coveted values in society, and Ghosts of the République shows us that the definition of family is constantly changing.”
Ghosts of the République is available on a variety of streaming platforms starting today. Find your options here and watch the trailer below.