French Muslims’ marriage annulled over virginity lie
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.
But 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?