Marriage Annulled: Wife not a Virgin
Posted by shadmia on June 5, 2008
A Muslim couple’s marriage was annulled by a French court on the grounds that the woman had lied and told her husband that she was a virgin. In its ruling, the court concluded the woman had misrepresented herself as a virgin and that, in this particular marriage, virginity was a prerequisite.
In its judgment, the tribunal said the 2006 marriage had been ended based on “an error in the essential qualities” of the bride, “who had presented herself as single and chaste.”
The French daily newspaper Liberation made public the April closed-door trial in Lille, causing such an uproar that, against the wishes of both the man and woman involved, the case will be appealed. Critics of the court saw the decision as undermining decades of progress in women’s rights by treating the case as a breach of contract. Marriage, they said, was reduced to the status of a commercial transaction in which women could be discarded by husbands claiming to have discovered hidden defects in them. France has a Muslim population of about 5 million, out of a country of 64 million, the largest of any Western European country, but has fought to maintain strong secular traditions in the face of changing demographics. Critics see the ruling as condoning the custom of requiring a woman to enter marriage as a virgin, and prove it with bloodstained sheets on her wedding night.
The court decision “is a real fatwa against the emancipation and liberty of women. We are returning to the past,” said Urban Affairs Minister Fadela Amara, the daughter of immigrants from Muslim North Africa, using the Arabic term for a religious decree.
Justice Minister Rachida Dati, whose parents also were born in North Africa, initially shrugged off the ruling but the public clamor reached such a pitch that she asked the prosecutor’s office this week to lodge an appeal. What began as a private matter “concerns all the citizens of our country and notably women,” a statement from her ministry said.
The irony is that the unnamed couple involved, both the man and the woman, were satisfied with the court’s ruling. Neither of them want the case to be appealed. The woman is a student in her 20’s and the man is an engineer in his 30’s.
The young woman’s lawyer, Charles-Edouard Mauger, said she was distraught by the dragging out of the humiliating case and he quoted her as saying:
“I don’t know who’s trying to think in my place. I didn’t ask for anything. … I wasn’t the one who asked for the media attention, for people to talk about it, and for this to last so long.”
Xavier Labbee, the lawyer for the bridegroom in question, says it was not the young woman’s virginity that was at issue.
“The question is not one of virginity. The question is one of lying,” he said. “In the ruling, there is no word ‘Muslim,’ there is no word ‘religion,’ there is no word ‘custom.’ And if one speaks of virginity it is with the term ‘a lie.”
Although divorce was also an option, annulling the marriage is preferable because it wipes the slate clean for both parties. Divorced Muslim women are allowed to remarry, but they are expected to be forthcoming with their new husband about the previous marriage, and divorce can carry a cultural stigma for women.
Article 180 of the Civil Code states that when a couple enters into a marriage, if the “essential qualities” of a spouse are misrepresented, then “the other spouse can seek the nullity of the marriage.” Past examples of marriages that were annulled include a husband found to be impotent and a wife who was a prostitute, according to attorney Xavier Labbee.
However, in a rare show of agreement, politicians on the left and right said the court’s action does not reflect French values. “In a democratic and secular country, we cannot consider virginity as an essential quality of marriage,” said an expert on French secularism, Jacqueline Costa-Lascoux.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon said an appeal must be lodged “so this ruling does not set a judicial precedent.” The appeal was filed and three judges could hear the case sometime this month, said Eric Vaillant of the appeals court in Douai, near Lille.
Maybe its just me, but I have difficulty seeing how a request to nullify a marriage becomes a national debate on French values and women’s rights. Even the parties involved are content with the court’s ruling and are against any further appeals. To me this is just a case of the government butting into the private lives of private citizens who would rather put an unfortunate situation behind them.