Diplomatic Pouch

Embassy of France, Washington, DC
© 2005 Thierry Caro, used under GNU Free
Documentation License, Version 1.2

I realized this morning that I haven’t updated you on our efforts to get our DC marriage recognized here in France. Back on May 17, the Constitutional Council (the French equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court) ruled that France’s newly adopted law opening marriage to same-sex couples was constitutional. The big question for us, of course, was how to get the French government to recognize the validity of our marriage performed in Washington almost three years earlier. We assumed at the time that we wouldn’t have to get remarried in France, but we had no earthly idea how to start the administrative process with the French authorities. SInce then, I’m happy to report, we’ve made headway.

It took us a few weeks to get our bearings, but Michel learned that we had to contact the French Consulate in Washington since we were married there. After downloading all the relevant information from their site, it seemed we just needed to follow the normal procedure for any couple married abroad, which consists of sending:

✔ a letter from the French national (that would be Michel)
✔ an official copy of the marriage license
✔ an official copy of the French national’s birth certificate
✔ a copy of his national identity card
✔ an official copy of the birth certificate of the foreign spouse (that would be me)
✔ a copy of his form of identification, and
✔ a self-addressed postage-paid envelope.

We originally planned to collect all the documents in France and I would take them with me to the U.S. and dispatch them using Fed-Ex during my impending visit. As usual, though, Michel was having difficulty getting a copy of his birth certificate by mail, so that plan fell through. He promised to go to the city hall in Montreuil to get a copy while I was away and, to make me feel better, he called the Consulate to confirm the process and make sure we were on the right track.

The first person Michel spoke with was neither very helpful nor very polite, so much so that Michel was quite perturbed after getting off the phone. I, on the other hand, wasn’t surprised in the least, having spent far too much time dealing with French bureaucrats at the prefecture. The good news, though, is that when Michel called back later as ordered like a dog as instructed, he spoke with a different consular official who was not only polite and professional, but even friendly. She confirmed that we should indeed follow the normal procedure on the website and, if everything in our file was in order, our marriage would be transcribed in the civil registry of the French Republic and we’d get our livret de famille (“family register“) by mail. So, off I went to the U.S. for two weeks, feeling much better about the road ahead …

A livret de famille, which attests to legal family relationships (photo to be replaced with one of ours as soon as it arrives)

After getting back to France, Michel and I assembled our file, including Michel’s birth certificate he’d hunted down during my absence. On the Monday following my return, the two of us trekked over to the Post Office and mailed our official request to have our DC marriage transcribed in the French civil registry. All that was left to do then was to wait …

June 24

After two weeks and no registered mail return receipt, Michel called the Consulate Monday evening to confirm that our file was there and that they didn’t need anything else from us. Our friendly consular official answered our call and looked us up. To our collective relief, she confirmed that our file was there and that it was complete. We had to be patient with the process, though, she told us. Since she’s the only person working in the department handling these kinds of requests, we shouldn’t expect our livret de famille before the end of August, she said.

Now, I’ll be honest here: there was a time not so long ago when I would’ve balked at that timeline, but I didn’t on Monday.  Maybe dealing with the slow machine of immigration bureaucracy these last three years has helped me attain the virtue of patience that has always been so lacking in my character. All I can say at this point is:

Dear Madame Consular Official in Washington, as long as you have all the paperwork you need, I’m quite content to sit back and wait. And if I get that livret de famille before September, I promise to apologize for every bad thing I’ve ever said about French bureaucracy … and there’s been a lot!

July 8

P.S. — Read what happened next!

© 2013 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved


11 thoughts on “Diplomatic Pouch

  1. Congratulations!

    Our paperwork is also in the pile working its way through the consular services in Canada, where we were married in 2010.

    Because we knew that the “loi Taubira” was going to allow us to get our marriage transcribed in the French registry, we had our file ready and it went into the mail immediately after the law was published in the Journal Officiel. We did get our mail receipt back and email confirmation that our request is being processed.

    Like you, we’re just sitting back and waiting. We were told to expect a 4 to 6 week delay. (I’m not sure that’s taking into consideration Bastille Day and August 15th, but we’ll see!)

    It’s been a good year, hasn’t it?!

    Tony Paschall, Chair
    Union of Overseas Voters

    1. Hi Tony! Thanks for the comment. Congratulations (or should I say “Félicitatons”?) to you as well! It has been a good year, indeed! Are you considering ever moving back to the US? We had a call with an immigration attorney a few weeks ago to discuss our options there now that §3 of DOMA is no more. It’s good to have options, that’s for sure.

      I’ve got my fingers crossed for you that you get your livret de famille ASAP. Maybe one day we’ll all get together for a drink to celebrate what a phenomenal year it’s been!

  2. We currently have no plans to move. I met my husband here and did not relocate for him, so I haven’t been looking back to the U.S. with as much heartache as have real love exiles. But options are good as family circumstances can change at any time.

    For the lawyer in you: As I understand it, our current status is that vis-à-vis each other we have all the obligations and rights of marriage, but it’s not until the marriage is transcribed into the French “état civil” that it has any effect with regard to third parties: property or business owners, employers, etc. Kind of strange, but trying to be patient.

    I’m looking forward to having a chance to meet you! Meanwhile, am enjoying your blog and FB page!

    1. You’re absolutely right about the interpretation of the rights there. It is interesting the way the law recognizes that our marriages are already valid vis-à-vis each other, but not vis-à-vis third parties (including the State itself) until it’s transcribed. I think what that means from a practical perspective is that it’s retroactive in a sense. Later on, for the purposes of determining (for whatever reason) how long we’ve been married, we could count from the date of the law’s effectiveness. Of course, I could be completely wrong about that!

    1. Yep. I’ll hopefully be able to ask for a visa de rapprochement familial when I go back in September to get an appointment for renewal. (My current TDS expires in December.) Not sure about fast-tracking citizenship. My current understanding is that I have to be in France legally for five years before I’m eligible and that marriage doesn’t impact it? If you know something else, though, please let me know! 🙂

  3. I’m not sure about establishing the date of your marriage for French administrative purposes. I think this is all new territory for the bureaucracy as well; but I’m confident it will all shake out for the best for us!

    Here’s the Public Service page on naturalization and marriage; it looks like the delay is four years, under certain conditions. I’m no longer as “au courant” of these things as I once was, and it’s an ever-changing landscape, as I’m sure you know.

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