A few women were married by use of proxy to soldiers that had died weeks earlier. This practice came to be called posthumous marriage. Posthumous marriage for civilians originated in the 1950s, when a dam broke and killed 400 people in Fréjus, France, including a man named André Capra, who was engaged to Irène Jodart. Jodart pleaded with French President Charles de Gaulle to let her go along with her marriage plans even though her fiancé had died. She had support from the media and within months was allowed to marry her fiancé. It is likely that posthumous marriage (un mariage posthume) was made as an extension to France's proxy marriage.
Within months after the Fréjus dam tragedy, France's parliament drafted a law permitting posthumous marriage. Since then, hundreds of women have formally filed for what is known as postmortem matrimony. Posthumous marriage became legal in France by Article 171 of the civil code which states: "The President of the Republic may, for serious reasons, authorize the solemnization of marriage if one of the spouses died after completion of official formalities marking it unequivocal consent. In this case, the effects of marriage dated back to the day preceding the death of the husband. However, this marriage does not entail any right of intestate succession for the benefit of the surviving spouse and no matrimonial property is deemed to have existed between the spouses."
Anyone in France who wants to file for posthumous marriage sends a request to the President of France, who forwards it to the Justice Minister, who forwards it to the prosecutor for the surviving member's district. If the couple had originally planned on getting married and the family of the deceased approves, the prosecutor sends the application back to the President. One out of every four applicants for posthumous marriage is rejected.
Requests also include records that show a serious cause such as the birth of a child or the death of the fiancé.
Pregnancy alone or a letter to that promises marriage does not suffice, partly because such letters have a reputation for being illegitimate.
The marriage applies retroactively to the day before the deceased spouse died. Even if they were engaged and had published banns, a posthumous marriage will not necessarily happen, partly because living engaged couples can change their minds at the last minute. A posthumous marriage can also be thwarted by the testimony of a trustworthy individual. The judge's[who?] role is to make sure that the paperwork has been properly filled out. The judge cannot question the authority of the documents.
Review of application
Article 171 of the Civil Code requires that application refers to serious reasons for posthumous marriage. The President of the Republic carefully considers the seriousness of the circumstances of the death.
In France, a woman will often stand next to a picture of her deceased fiancé while the ceremony is taking place. The mayor conducting the ceremony will read the Presidential decree instead of the deceased man's marriage vows.
Posthumous spouses usually prefer to keep quiet about posthumously marrying. However, a recent spouse, named Christelle Demichel, wrote a letter to The New York Times to let people know that they have the option of marrying their lost loved ones. Dimichel described the marriage as perfect and stated that “it remained in the spirit of a wedding”.
The law does not permit the living spouse to receive any of the deceased spouse's property or money. No matrimonial property is considered to have existed between the two living spouses.
After a posthumous marriage the living spouse inherently becomes a widow or widower. Posthumous marriage will also bring the surviving spouse into the family of the deceased spouse, which can create an alliance or moral satisfaction. The surviving spouse is also subject to impediments of marriage that result.
Posthumous marriage also shows the strength of an individual to overcome a fiancé's death. Article 171 specifically states that the usual financial aspects of a marriage, such as liquidation of matrimonial regime or the granting of intestate inheritance (meaning the laws governing inheritances of people whose spouses die without a will) do not apply. The widow can, however, receive a pension and can be entitled to insurance benefits.
Notable posthumous marriages
- Étienne Cardiles married his civil partner, French National Police Captain Xavier Jugelé, on 30 May 2017, more than five weeks after the latter died in a terrorist attack on the Champs Élysées.
In 1987, a Venezuelan man died in Florida. The next week, his alleged fiancée told the probate court that she was his wife and claimed the right to administer his estate and that she was entitled to the amount of the estate normally given to a spouse, rather than the entire estate going to his children. Two weeks after the man's death, a Florida court ordered that the alleged marriage be legally recognized. However, this order was reversed the next year, after an appeal by the man's children.
In December 1983, Heung Jin Moon, the second son of Sun Myung Moon and Hak Ja Han (who were leaders of the Unification Church), was in an automobile accident in New York and died on January 2. Moon's death came before his planned arranged marriage to ballerina Julia Pak, daughter of Moon's interpreter, Bo Hi Pak. According to Unificationism, only married couples are allowed to enter the highest level of heaven. Moon's parents conducted a posthumous marriage ceremony on February 20, 1984.
In 1982 the fiancée of Duk Koo Kim, a Korean boxer who died of injuries, held a posthumous wedding when a funeral for Kim was conducted in Kim's gym. Kim's fiancée, Lee Yon-mi was three months pregnant with Kim's first child at the time wanted to marry Kim to console the boxer. Lee Yong-mi told Korean media that she would remain celibate for the rest of her life and commit to raising their child. In Korea, it used to be customary for people to marry the soul of a fiancé that died before a planned wedding. The living spouse would then stay celibate for the rest of his or her life, but the tradition is not currently legally binding.
In The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, one of the characters is a man named Fritz Pfeffer, under the pseudonym Albert Dussel. In the 1930s Pfeffer met Charlotte Kaletta. Pfeffer and Kaletta moved in together but were forbidden from marrying because of the 1935 Nazi Nuremberg Laws that outlawed marriages between Jews and non-Jews.
Charlotta married Pfeffer posthumously in 1950, with retrospective effect to 31 May 1937.
In 2004 a man in South Africa shot his fiancée and then himself during an argument. The two were later married because the families and friends wished to remember them as a happy couple, to marry the families together, and because in African culture death is instead thought of as a separation of body and soul.
In Okinawa, which has been under the influences of China for centuries, there has been a custom of posthumous marriage. The reason is to correct the rules of the placing of spirit tablets. There are strict rules of placing spirit tablets, and if the rules are broken, the spirit tablet under question is moved to a proper place with ceremonies at the order of a spiritualist.
In China there is a rare tradition called ghost marriage, also known as a minghun or a spirit marriage. This can be performed between two deceased singles, or between a dead person and a living person.
In traditional Chinese culture it is shameful to be the parents of an unwed daughter, and unmarried girls are often shunned from society. For men, ghost marriages were often performed for the sake of progeny. In addition, ghost marriage for men let the family's lineage carry on. The spouse of a deceased male could adopt a child who would carry on the lineage of the man's family. Other reasons for performing ghost marriages for deceased males are dreams and séances from the spirits of the males who want to be married. Chinese tradition also says that younger brothers do not marry before their older brothers, so sometimes a Chinese ghost marriage will be performed to stay in line with this tradition.
Sometimes the family of a deceased person will use a priest as a matchmaker. Other times they will leave out a red envelope with gifts and believe that the deceased person's spouse will reveal himself.
Sometimes when a woman's fiancé died, in order for her to participate in the ghost marriage, she would have to participate in the man's funeral service, which included uncomfortable mourning standards, taking a vow of celibacy, and to immediately take up residence with the man's family. There are no requirements for a man doing this but this has not been recorded.
To represent the deceased person(s) effigies made of bamboo will be used. These are clothed in what people would wear to weddings and are usually burned afterwards. Most of the rites of the marriage are actually performed in the same way regular Chinese marriages are usually performed.
Theft of female corpses
The practice leads to reported cases of female corpses being stolen. In 2017-19, it is reported that a black market of female corpses has appeared in the provinces of Shandong, Shanxi and Shaanxi. A female dead body can be sold in the range of several hundred thousands RMB for the purpose of minghun. Even corpses of married, elderly women have become targets of such illegal trade. In 2019 some graveyards in Henan province resort to CCTV cameras and concrete coffins to prevent thefts.
In Sudan there is a tradition that when an engaged man dies his brother replaces him at his wedding and any of his children are considered children of the deceased brother. Women will marry men to continue their blood line. Women will also marry deceased men so that they can retain their wealth instead of losing it after getting married.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) believe that, with the appropriate authority, marriages can be performed for "time and all eternity," rather than just "until death do us part." They believe that Jesus gave this authority to the Apostle Peter; in Mathew 16:19, Jesus tells Peter, "And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Consequently, the practice of marriage for eternity is referred to as a sealing or an eternal marriage. Sealings can be performed posthumously, as well as for the living. Posthumous sealings can be performed to eternally wed a living person and a deceased spouse (with a live church member standing as a proxy for the deceased), or, more commonly, between two deceased persons (with a living man and woman standing in as proxies). In either case, the couple must have been married while alive. Thus, this practice is perhaps better described as a posthumous sealing rather than a posthumous marriage.
In current practice, men who are dead may be sealed by proxy to all of the women to whom they were legally married while alive. Recent changes in church policy also allow women to be sealed to multiple men, but only after both she and her husbands are dead. Sealings are also performed posthumously for deceased couples, even for couples that divorced in life. This ordinance is similar to the church's practice of baptism for the dead, although it has not been as controversial with non-Mormons.
The church's doctrine is not entirely specific concerning who should be sealed to whom when there are multiple spouses, and the church permits a sealing to take place any time there was a valid marriage between an opposite-sex couple. One possibility is that regardless of how many times a man or woman is sealed, only one marriage will remain in the afterlife. Another possibility is that multiple sealings will be valid in the next life. The church does not clearly teach whether or not polygamous marriages exist in the afterlife. It is believed that the proxy sealings, like the church's proxy baptisms, are only offered to the deceased souls, and that deceased persons must accept the ordinance for it to take effect. The LDS Church opposes same-sex marriages and does not perform them for either living or deceased couples.
Levirate marriage is a tradition related to posthumous marriages or ghost marriages. In a Levirate marriage, the brother of a deceased man is obligated to marry his late brother's widow.
Levirate marriages will sometimes be performed to give support to the widows and their children. Sometimes they are considered a restraint on the woman's liberty. In some cases Levirate marriages are only performed for when a man died childless in order to continue his family line. In Deuteronomy 25: 5-6, The Hebrew Bible mandates Levirate marriages, known as a yibbum, for a man whose married brother died, unless the brother has a child. When a levirate marriage is not required (such as when the deceased brother had a child) it is forbidden by Leviticus 16:18. A halitzah, which releases the widow to remarry a man of her choosing, is now typically performed instead of a Levirate marriage.
Ghost marriage in South Sudan similarly involves marriage to a living brother of a deceased man, who may have been married or about to be married.
Posthumous marriage in fiction
In Lisa See's novel Peony in Love (New York: Random House, 2007), set in 17th century China, the main character, Peony, dies as a teenager and is later married in a ghost marriage to a poet that she fell in love with during her lifetime.
In Season 2, episode 16 of the television series Bones, a woman was murdered and her bones were sold for a Minhun ghost marriage.
During the final season of the television series Without a Trace, an episode titled “Devotion” featured a young woman who was kidnapped and set to be killed and ghost married by the Chinese parents of her deceased ex-fiancé.
In season 5, episodes 13 of the television series Numb3rs, Chinese women are being murdered and then their bodies are buried atop the coffins of unmarried Chinese males. The brides were picked by the parents of the deceased males. Before the murders, a short traditional wedding ceremony was held so that the deceased sons would have marriage in the afterlife. While it appears that the murders are part of a long-standing tradition, the writers acknowledge that the tradition did not involve murder.
In Elizabeth McCracken's romance The Giant’s House, a librarian named Peggy Cort meets an eleven-year-old boy named James Sweatt, who suffers from a rare disease called Gigantism. Cort develops an obsession for Sweatt, and after his death she conceives a child with his father and claims that it is James's and declares herself as the first posthumous bride in history.
In the film Corpse Bride, a living man accidentally marries a dead woman after she died. When he agrees to remain married to the dead woman, he is told he has to take poison and die, (because the marriage vows state; "Until death do us part", and death has already parted the living man and the dead woman). Although he agrees to drink the poison and die, they decide it is better for him to marry a living woman (he was previously engaged to) and remain alive until his natural death. The deceased woman then transforms into a group of white butterflies and flies away into the night.
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