LAUSANNE â€" After living together for seven years, Guillaumette Sauvé and Pierre Boizot wed on June 30 in a civil ceremony in Lausanne. They are 62 and 59 respectively, and have both been married twice before.
The bride didn't wear white. And only a few friends were invited. â€œAt first, we werenâ€™t too excited by the idea of marriage," Guillaumette explains over the phone. "Our experiences didnâ€™t particularly make us want to it again.â€ Practically speaking, however, it made sense.
"After buying an apartment in Lausanne, getting married seemed like the easiest way to take care of the inheritance" she says.
Six months earlier, Mary-Claire and Richard also tied the knot â€" at the Yverdon-les-Bains city hall, in western Switzerland. She's 64. He is 63. The couple had been seeing each other for several years.
While marriages between people over the age of 60 aren't exactly commonplace, they are, nevertheless, part of a growing trend, at least in and around Geneva, where the number of such weddings nearly doubled over the past decade. In 2004, there were only 13 "senior unions" in the area. In 2013, 78 older couples wed, according to the Cantonal Statistics Office.
Love and practicalities
So what's behind all these seniors getting married? Pragmatic reasons, linked to the fear of dying, seem to play a role. "We got married to protect each other and our children in the case of inheritance," says Guillaumette, who acknowledges, nevertheless, that "being husband and wife doesnâ€™t bring us any monetary advantage."
But like with any marriage, senior unions are also about love and commitment â€" about trusting in the future. â€œThis marriage, which at first was simply administrative, made us put things into perspective regarding our previous marriages," says Guillaumette. "In this union at more than 60 years old, we find a deeper meaning. Weâ€™re maybe more aware, more mature, more responsible."
For the family specialist and sociologist Jean-Marie Le Goff, from the University of Lausanne, these senior weddings put an end to a certain idea of marriage. "In Switzerland, marriage still has a very strong link to parenthood," he explains. "The question of marriage usually comes with the arrival of a child. In this way, senior couples who get married are giving a new meaning to this commitment, which can thus be freed from social constraints and come down to the feeling of love."
Senior marriage is a relative term. Guillaumette and her new husband are veritable spring chickens compared to George Kirby and Doreen Luckie, who tied the knot in front of their families and relatives on June 13 in Eastbourne, in southern England. The couple lived together for 27 years before deciding, at the ages of 103 and 91 â€" a world record â€" to finally make it official.
The groom was in a wheelchair. The bride was in a blue flowery dress, with a fascinator like only the British still wear. Between them they have seven children, 15 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Working out the inheritance will be fun.
The previous record, with 191 accumulated years between the groom and bride, was held since 2002 by François Fernandez and Madeleine Francineau of France, where last year, another famous senior couple â€" Michel Legrand, 82, and princess Maria-Magdalena Wladimirovna Gagarina, 74, better known as Macha Méril â€" tied the knot. The composer and the actress met in 1964 in Rio de Janeiro. They met again five decades later.
Shifting social mores
In Switzerland, the average age for first weddings is slowly but surely moving back. At almost 29 for men in 1950, it was estimated by the Federal Statistical Office to be 32 in 2013. Sociologists point to rising life expectancy, the belated start of working lives and an increasing defiance towards the sacrament of marriage to explain the change.
Not all of those marriages last, which is how people like Guillaumette and Pierre, Doreen and George, Macha and Michel find themselves in the position, years later, of taking vows for a second or even third time.
Jean-Marie Le Goff believes demographics are a factor behind the in the increase of senior marriages. "Todayâ€™s seniors are yesterdayâ€™s baby-boomers, and thereâ€™s a lot of them," he says. Sociological changes also play are role. "Women in widowhood, for instance, used to be excluded from the matrimonial market. And the divorce rate was very low," says the Le Goff.
Social norms regarding age â€" and what is, or isn't appropriate for seniors â€" have shifted too. People in their golden years openly exercise. They dress fashionably, as evidenced by the popularity of Advanced Style, a blog run by Ari Seth Cohen, a young fashion photographer who likes old ladies. They go on dates â€" with the help of websites such as Netsnior.fr, Maxisenior.fr or Senior-rencontre.com â€" and, since one thing often leads to another, more of them end up at the altar.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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