(Since NYT articles are archived after a week, I reproduce the following here in its entirety, without permission. So sue me.)
A Love That Transcends Death Is Blessed by the State
By CRAIG S. SMITH
Published: February 19, 2004
PARIS, Feb. 18 — Christelle Demichel, 34, married a dead man last week. She carried a bouquet of yellow roses and gleefully ducked rice after the ceremony in the Riviera city of Nice. About 40 people later attended her reception at a local restaurant where the Champagne bottles bore custom labels with the newlyweds' names. The only thing missing, besides a wedding cake, was the groom.
"I had what you can call a perfect wedding," Ms. Demichel said the next day, chain-smoking beside her new mother-in-law in a Paris café.
Yes, it is possible to marry the dearly departed in France, thanks to a law that turns the vow "till death do us part" on its head.
The law dates to December 1959, when the Malpasset Dam in southern France burst, inundating the town of Fréjus and claiming hundreds of lives. When de Gaulle visited the town a week later, a young woman named Irène Jodard pleaded with him to allow her to follow through on her marriage plans even though her fiancé had drowned."I promise, Mademoiselle, to think of you," de Gaulle was reported to have replied.
Later that month, Parliament drafted a law to permit Ms. Jodard to marry her deceased fiancé, André Capra. Hundreds of would-be widows and widowers have applied for post-mortem matrimony since then. Anyone wishing to marry a dead person must send a request to the president, who then forwards it to the justice minister, who sends it to the prosecutor in whose jurisdiction the surviving person lives. If the prosecutor determines that the couple planned to marry before the death and if the parents of the deceased approve, the prosecutor sends a recommendation back up the line. The president, if so moved, eventually signs a decree allowing the marriage.
In Ms. Demichel's case, the approval came on Dec. 22, more than year after a drunken driver struck and killed her fiancé, Eric Demichel, while he was riding his motorcycle home from work. She decided to wait until Feb. 10 to celebrate the wedding on what would have been his 30th birthday.
In a real-life rendition of "The Bride Wore Black," the title of a 1967 François Truffaut film, Ms. Demichel showed up at the ornate wedding room in Nice's town hall wearing a black pantsuit. An empty orange armchair represented the groom, and in place of his vows the mayor read the presidential decree.
There was no exchange of rings, although the mayor politely asked Ms. Demichel if she wanted to do something of the sort. "It remained in the spirit of a wedding," Ms. Demichel said. "It wasn't `funeral No. 2.' " The marriage is retroactive to the eve of the groom's demise, allowing Ms. Demichel to carry her husband's name and identify herself as a widow on France's plentiful bureaucratic forms. She said the marriage was otherwise of purely sentimental value. In fact, to avoid abuses, the 1959 law bars such spouses from any inheritance as a result of their weddings. Posthumous nuptials can play a practical role if the woman left behind is pregnant, though, because children born after their father's death are considered heirs. But the authorities are vigilant in preventing the law's exploitation. In one case a woman impregnated herself with her late boyfriend's sperm, only to have her request for marriage denied.
Ms. Demichel's lawyer said about 20 were approved each year. Ms. Demichel said that while most of the posthumous weddings were kept quiet, she had decided to go public with hers in the hope of helping other people who might not know that marrying their lost love one was an option.
Her mother-in-law, Jocelyne Demichel, said she had consented to the marriage because Ms. Demichel was the only woman with whom her son had ever wanted to start a family. "It's normal," she said, "that she carry his name."
Now Ms. Demichel is taking a few days off from her job as a police officer, though it is not exactly her honeymoon. She came to Paris to spend time with her mother-in-law, who was herself widowed several months ago. Then she will go back to live in the apartment in Nice where she keeps her husband's ashes in an urn in the bedroom.
"I have transcended death," Ms. Demichel said enthusiastically.
The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons License, except those items which are cited, which belong to their original copyright holders. The photos and cartoons belong to their original copyright holders.