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November 18th, 2008
Court Rules Virginity not an Essential Quality

Yesterday an appeals court in northern France reinstated a marriage between two Muslims who split up on their wedding night back in July 2006. The husband had sought an annulment of the marriage after learning that his bride had lied about her virginity. A lower court had granted his wish back in April, but the appeals court of Douai has now overturned that verdict, ruling that virginity “is not an essential quality in that its absence has no repercussion on matrimonial life” and that lying about virginity is not enough to justify an annulment.  For more background on this controversial case, which has pitted French values of secularism against the traditions of its growing Muslim community, read this previous Wide Angle post.

There is widespread relief among French political circles about the new court decision, and women’s rights organizations are hailing it as a victory for the principle of equality between men and women. The couple’s lawyers had opposing reactions in the French press. The wife’s lawyer called the decision “exemplary and necessary…because it allows the law to establish its position on the annulment of marriage when it comes to non-virginity and chastity.”  But the husband’s lawyer declared “our individual liberties are gravely threatened” and expressed worry that the court is imposing “a forced marriage against the wishes of the spouses.”

The couple must now seek a formal divorce in order to separate.

WIDE ANGLE’s documentary Young, Muslim, and French explored the tensions between Islam and French secularism in the wake of a 2004 ban on wearing headscarves in public schools.

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