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.