Saturday, 26 July 2008

It could only happen in France

At this precise moment in a mairie somewhere in the department of Tarn, Jean-Louis, a sixty-eight year old artist, is doing the whole wedding thing - ceremony, family, friends, ring, knees-up - and marrying his partner of twenty-odd years. Nothing unusual there, you may say. Well no, until you discover that his partner died nearly four years ago .

The story is that although they'd been together since the eighties, they decided to wait until they'd both retired from their artistic lives to get married, but Sod's Law kicked in and she became seriously ill. They embarked on a plan for a 'death-bed' marriage, but this too was stymied when she lapsed into a coma and then died shortly afterwards. Undeterred, he vowed to honour his promise to her and go ahead with a posthumous marriage ceremony. Extraordinary, but true. So intrigued was I when I read about this in our regional newspaper this morning that I just had to find out more.

So, having firkled around in the bowels of some French legal websites, I can now reveal that posthumous marriage became enshrined in the civil code here in 1959 after the disaster of the Malpasset dam, which broke on the night of 2 December 1959 killing more than 420 people. Amongst the victims was a young man who was due to marry 15 days later and whose fiancée was pregnant. The public was said to be 'traumatised' both by the event and by the young woman's plight; after Le Monde took up her story and supported her desire to marry her dead fiancé, the National Assembly almost immediately proposed an amendment to the marriage laws which was passed, without opposition, just a week later.

Mind you, you've got to be pretty determined because you can only marry posthumously by decree from the President himself, countersigned by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Justice. You have to prove that the dead person had consented to marry and that marriage was already on the cards, and you have to demonstrate that you have 'serious reasons'. Some 50 applications are received every year; only a handful receive consent. It took Jean-Louis three attempts before he got his, but get it he did and by the time you read this he'll be a married man, with his marriage backdated to the day before his partner died.

And as France is the only European country to legalise posthumous marriage in this way, it really could only happen in France.

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