Status, Race, and Marriage: French Continental Law versus French Colonial Law

Friday, January 8, 2010: 2:30 PM
Manchester Ballroom F (Hyatt)
Valérie Gobert-Sega , École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, France
In its most traditional moral and legal conception, marriage had for consequence to erase the crime of cohabitation and dissoluteness. Independentently of geographic space and by virtue of the principle of the unity of French laws and customs, the institution of marriage could not be left supplant under colonial law and order. In 1685, the Edict administering the rights and the duties of slaves and emancipated slaves as well as their relationships with white people in the French colonies established legitimacy and religious rules. However, the rigidity of statutory tripartition of the population could not concretely integrate these justifiable, legally valid but socially prohibited unions. The first legal ban was introduced into the Code of Louisiana in 1724 and the second was imposed by the prescription of April, 1778 for continental France. Meanwhile, the Monarchy was never resolved to reform article 9 of the Code of 1685. In doing so, the administration strategically restricted the civil and professional rights of those who chose to go against the social misalliance. It isn’t until the promulgation of the Civil code of 1805 that the restriction based on race and status is finally unified. But once again even if the principle is acquired, its execution remains unpredictable: it extends to all people, of color or black, in colonies but only to black people in metropolitan France. However, for more than two centuries, the legislator, conscientiously maintained a flaw in the prohibition: whether it be in the colonies or in France, these marriages will never be punished by nullity. This absence of penalty will finally allow the Supreme Court and the Abolitionists to declare the legal ban on interracial marriages invalid and to overrule it.
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