In France it’s legal to marry the dead

In France it’s legal to marry the deadDozens apply each year for permission to marry dead people under a law created during World War I. Over the years, hundreds of requests have been granted.

“These kinds of marriages do take place even though it is not something that happens every day,” said Angela Kendall, a spokeswoman at the French Embassy in London.

It’s certainly not a phenomenon many people in France are willing to discuss. Officials at various French government agencies would confirm only that a law allowing such marriages exists. In some cases, the marriages have been publicized.

In 1992, Bernadette Heuze received permission to marry the man of her dreams who had died in March 1991 of cancer just hours before their wedding was scheduled.

In 1996, Patricia Montenez married the love of her life more than two years after the police commander was shot and killed in the line of duty.

Two months ago, Christelle Demichel married a dead man in a ceremony at Nice City Hall on the French Riviera. Eric Demichel had been struck and killed by a drunken driver in a September 2002 accident.

Feelings remain

Demichel told a local TV station that she understood “it could seem shocking to marry someone who is dead,” but she explained that her feelings for him had not subsided.
The absence of the groom did not prevent a champagne wedding reception — attended by about 40 friends and family members — or a “honeymoon” spent with her mother-in-law in Paris.

Demichel, 35, wore a black suit and carried a bouquet of yellow roses at the February ceremony. A city official read out the presidential decree in the place of the typical exchange of vows.

She had met Eric in Paris in 1997 when they were both working as police officers. They moved in together and then later agreed to marry and transfer to Nice because they believed it to be a nicer place to raise a family. Their wedding date had been scheduled for last spring.

The idea of posthumous marriage was introduced into French law in 1915 for the girlfriends of servicemen who died in the trenches during World War I. Under the law, authorization can come only from the president.

The law was extended to civilians in 1959 after President Charles de Gaulle became aware of the case of a pregnant woman whose fiance had died alongside more than 400 others after a dam burst in the town of Frejus.

“I’ve really never heard much about this kind of a marriage, but I guess it’s not so surprising in a country such as France that is so known for romance,” said Isabelle Grizeau, a secretary in Paris.

The law allows posthumous marriage so long as the surviving spouse doesn’t stake claim to any inheritance or other money not already included in a will.

And such a union can occur only if it’s determined the couple planned to marry prior to the death and only with the blessing of the deceased’s family.

Besides France, there are other countries in which posthumous weddings occur. Some Asian cultures, for example, honor such marriages, believing that the spirits of dead people cannot rest until unfinished business — such as a wedding ceremony — is completed.

For Demichel, her wedding actually was a lot of fun — even if her love wasn’t beside her. She told reporters that she had been determined to make sure the ceremony wasn’t “The Funeral: Part Two.”

And, apparently, it wasn’t.

Reprinted by courtesy of ©Journal Sentinel Inc.

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