A court has declared France’s “virginity lie” couple to be legally married, despite their appeal to annul their nuptial vows because the wife turned out not to be the virgin she had claimed to be. The case caused an uproar a few months ago because they were initially granted an annulment on the grounds that she had lied about an “essential quality” necessary for the marriage contract. The case was argued as if the issue were simply about a business contract where one party had lied about the goods being delivered, and the first court accepted it on those grounds.
But the background — that the two were Muslims of North African origin and the man considered her virginity a condition for marrying the woman — sparked off a loud debate about whether the court was allowing Muslim traditions or sharia provisions to creep into French jurisprudence. “A real fatwa for women’s liberation … (like) a ruling handed down in Kandahar” was a memorable comment from Fadela Amara, the state secretary for urban affairs who comes from an Algerian Muslim family.
After initially supporting the couple, Justice Minister Rachida Dati — who is herself from a North African Muslim background and had a marriage annulled years ago — came under political pressure to oppose it and finally asked the public prosecutor to lodge an appeal against the annulment. This appeal against the annulment is what was upheld in the court in Douai in northern France on Monday. So the couple, who split up on their wedding night when the husband walked out on her and told the story to guests still partying at the reception downstairs, remains married despite their efforts to be unmarried. They will now have to go through the normal divorce procedure to undo what was effectively a marriage of only a few hours.
The court argued as follows: “A lie that does not pertain to an essential quality is not a valid reason to annul a marriage. This is particularly the case when the supposed lie concerns the past private life of the future bride and her virginity, which is not an essential quality in that its absence has no impact on married life.”
An interesting twist to this saga was that both the man and the woman agreed they wanted the annulment. She was initially against it, but quickly agreed to it because there was no way that marriage would work out. The husband’s lawyer denounced the decision to overturn the annulment, saying the court had allow the public prosecutor to “control souls and consciences.”