French Muslims’ marriage annulled over virginity lie

May 30, 2008

A French court has annulled the marriage of two French Muslims because the husband complained his wife was not the virgin she had claimed to be. His lawyer won the case by arguing a civil marriage is a legal contract and lying about an important element in it amounts to fraud. Religion had nothing to do with it, he argued, and the court agreed. More details are in our news story here.

A bride waiting for her wedding, 14 Feb 2008/Shannon StapletonBut religion obviously had something to do with this. The man has a traditional Muslim view (and not only Muslim, by the way…) that his wife must be a virgin at marriage. Some Muslim families shun daughters who are sexually active before marriage, in rare cases going so far as committing a so-called “honour killing.”

The decision is also discriminatory. Only a woman’s virginity can be physically tested, so applying this standard violates the legal equality between men and women.

The clause in the civil code that the lawyer used is usually applied to cases where a spouse finds his/her new partner concealed an earlier divorce or had a physical or mental disability that made a normal sex life impossible. French media have mentioned earlier cases where it was used. In one, a man had his marriage annulled because he discovered his wife had been a prostitute. In another, a devout Catholic woman used it against a husband who had concealed his earlier divorce.

One interesting angle here — although Islam is mentioned in this debate, there hasn’t been much Muslim-bashing or suggestions of “creeping Sharia” like those made in Britain after Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams suggested some elements of Islamic law should be taken into British law. It’s not surprising the husband’s lawyer did not mention religion because a French court would have thrown out an argument based on faith. The debate is over which issue takes precedence, prosecution of a fraud case or defence of equality and individual rights.

Amar Lafsar, rector of a large mosque in Lille where the case was tried, said Islam does not necessarily demand virginity for a new bride and gives men and women the same rights. Asked what he tells young Muslim women considering marriage, he said: “I tell them a girl should preserve herself for her husband, for her Prince Charming, and if the girls listen and preserve their virginity and chastity, that’s great. But they’re free. They’re in a country of law and liberty. Each is free to respond or not to the message.” Here he is speaking in French to RTL radio.

The man was reported to be a 30-year-old French convert to Islam and his wife a student of about 20 from a French Muslim family. According to Le Monde, the wedding festivities stretched late into the night and the husband, who had left with his wife, returned to the party and announced the news. He went to see his lawyer in the morning.

The case leaves a whole list of questions. Looking back, should the court have ruled as it did? Should the principle of sexual equality take precedence over the realities of a broken contract? And what should now be done? A government spokesman suggested an appeals court should review the verdict, but overturning it would place the woman back in a marriage her husband doesn’t want. Letting the verdict stand creates a precedent that, according to feminist philosopher Elisabeth Badinter, treats the woman as “merchandise.”

What do you think about this?

7 comments

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I desagree with the journalist as he said that religion does matter. It does not. If I want to marry a virgin, it is my prerogative not related to religion. If want to be the first one, that is my choice. And as always, now everithing that you disagree with, it is discrimination.
If a woman wants a virgin man, she can demand that, it is her choice.So there is equality.
Are you married?, would you have like to married a woman that was hundreds/thousands of time passed through the “stone” like they said in my town. The same apply to a woman. She has the same choice.So there is equality.
Thanks

Here’s what I think about this:

1. What happened in this case happens fairly regularly in the Middle East. Husbands show up at emergency rooms with their brides, still dressed in wedding garb, complaining that there was no blood upon consummation. And according to the doctors I’ve spoken with, there is no perfect test for virginity, so the usual response is to reassure the husband that the lack of blood doesn’t necessarily mean the wife wasn’t a virgin. Some doctors go so far as to conduct a faux examination of the bride, proclaiming to all her virginity, to appease the husband, to avoid a potential dishonor killing, and to let everyone save face.

2. Now that the court has basically vouched that the bride wasn’t a virgin at the time of her marriage, isn’t anyone concerned about her safety? She’s at risk.

3. I think this case sets a dangerous precedent. Obviously, the laws of the West aren’t very well suited to a case like this.

Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
“Reclaiming Honor in Jordan”

Posted by ERS | Report as abusive

The debate around this case seems very irrelevant.
However something written here needs to be adressed. It states that only a woman’s virginity can be tested which isn’t completely accurate. The presence of a hymen can be proved, thus confirming the woman’s chastity, however if it is ruptured that does not mean she has had sex. This can be caused by anything from rudung a bike to the use of a tampon.
So this is not a case of descrimination based on a biological difference based on men and women. Any doctor could have confirmed that a hymen can be broken by the above mentioned activities so we can assume that the bride was honest with her husband about her past.
Although his opinion may not be a contemporary one, it is obviously one that means a great deal to this particular individual, and if he also made it clear that this was an important factor to his bride to be, then he has fair grounds for annullment as he has simply been misled with regards to something which, to him, was of sincere value.(Even if modern liberal attitudes think otherwise) It is his choice to marry a virgin and if the courts reverse this decision to preserve the ‘état laic’ then they had best reverse the annullment granted to the catholic woman who left her husband due to his divorce. In a free society, we are free to choose our values. If this woman has contradicted the husband’s individual values then he has the write to annullment under french law. It is not a question of faith, it is a matter of law and the individual.
Also with regards to her safety, I would assume with the media attention around the case one of the woman’s protection groups such as ‘ni putes, ni soumises’ would have been in touch already.

Posted by L Reeve | Report as abusive

In regards to this, a person is free to do as they wish.

Religion may or may not affect the decision. Yet, regardless a fundamental problem must be examined; namely that of proving a woman’s virginity.

As one reader posted, how can a man prove the woman is virgin? Is he going to examine if she has a hymen? Or, is he going to ask her bluntly if she is a virgin?

Even if you don’t buy those arguments, I propose one more argument. Girls can lose their hymen, thereby nullifying physical evidence of virginity, by other means then sex.

In all cases, a girl may lose her hymen by being involved in demanding physical activity and by other means.

This then means that if the man finds out no blood comes out after the two have intercourse, then does that constitute that the woman already had sex?

This must be examined and cannot be the only basis of proving virginity.

Regardless, a man and woman must discuss this matter before marriage to prevent future complications.

Posted by A Fasih | Report as abusive

Legally speaking, marriage is a contract. The crux of this case is not the issue of her virginity, but the lie she told. His condition for going into this contract was that he wanted to marry a virgin. By telling him she was a virgin, she implicitly agreed this was an important qualification for the contract. When on their wedding night he suspected she actually was not a virgin and challenged her, she admitted she had lied. So the question of virginity or proof of virginity is actually not the point — she took care of that by admitting she was not a virgin and had deceived him. In strictly legal terms in the case of a contract, it is as if she had sold him defective merchandise by swearing it was in good running condition. Is this standard applicable for something as personal as one’s private life? That’s the real question here.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Some readers are submitting obscene comments on this issue. Don’t waste your time.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Marriage is a contract. If she lied then the contract is null and void. If he lied then the contract is null and void too. she admitted she had sex before marriage and that was not acceptable to the man…end of story. Whether you agree with their morality decisions doesn’t matter. The man did not take his wife to emergency room, he just wanted out of this contract, it’s his right.
Bottom line, lies null the contract. As simple as that.

Posted by Ashman | Report as abusive