Court overturns marriage annulment over virginity

FRANCE: A French appeal court overturned a ruling that annulled the marriage of a Muslim couple after the husband discovered his bride was not a virgin, the husband’s lawyer said on Monday.

Public outrage at April’s annulment ruling forced the government to order the case to be reviewed, against the wishes of both spouses.

The groom, a Muslim engineer in his 30s whose name was not made public, sought the annulment after realising his bride was not a virgin on the night of their marriage in a civil ceremony in July 2006. His wife, who admitted to him that she had had pre-marital sex, said she accepted the annulment. “This ruling is very worrying,” the groom’s lawyer Xavier Labbee said after Monday’s decision by a court in the northern town of Douai, adding, “Our individual liberties are seriously threatened”. Lawyers for both parties had requested that the annulment be maintained at a hearing in September.

State prosecutors had said they were not against allowing the split if it were possible to replace the “discriminatory motive” of loss of virginity with a more general one, such as mistaken identity.

Annulment: The court in the northern city of Lille that granted the initial annulment did not mention the couple’s religion but said the man’s belief in the woman’s virginity was a “determining factor” in his decision to marry her.

It said he had been misled about an “essential quality” of his bride-to-be. The ruling drew furious protests from rights groups, who slammed it as a victory for religious fundamentalists and a blow to the emancipation of women that set a dangerous legal precedent.

Some 150 European parliament members wrote to France’s Muslim-born Justice Minister, Rachida Dati, denouncing it as an unacceptable encroachment of religion in the public sphere. Dati finally ordered an appeal in the face of a wall of protest, but she continued to insist the ruling was legally sound, based on a breach of trust between the pair, not the issue of virginity itself. The justice minister also warned the case should not be used to stigmatise France’s five-million-strong Muslim community which is Europe’s largest.


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