France has been rocked in the past week by news that a court allowed a Muslim groom to annul his marriage because he found out on his wedding night that his bride was not a virgin.
The wedding took place two years ago and the annulment was granted last month, but once the story was revealed in a legal journal it caught fire with the media.
Many French politicians and activists have strongly condemned the state’s recognition of the annulment.
The Socialist Party’s Segolene Royal called the decision by a high court in the northern city of Lille “a step backwards for the emancipation of women and the right that they won to dispose freely of their bodies,” according to the Times of London.
Dounia Bouzar, an anthropologist and expert on Muslims in Europe, told the International Herald Tribune, “It’s a victory for fundamentalists and a victory for those who look at Islam as an archaic religion that treats women badly.”
“It amounts to legalizing the repudiation of wives who aren’t virgins,” said activist Sihem Habchi, according to the Irish Times.
The newspaper reported that the marriage in question was between a 30-year-old French convert to Islam and a 20-year-old Muslim woman in Roubaix.
Their names were not revealed in the press.
Before marrying, she had told her fiance that she was a virgin.
But on their wedding night, she revealed to him that she had had sex before.
Some reports offered the lurid details of wedding guests waiting in a hotel lobby while the groom came downstairs, distraught over not having a bloodied sheet to show them as a sign of his bride’s “purity.”
A lawyer in the case, Xavier Labbee, told the Times of London that the decision was not an attack on female sexuality: “Quite simply it is about a lie,” the paper quoted him as saying. “Religion did not motivate the decision … but it is true that religious convictions played a role.”
The Times of London also quoted Justice Minister Rachida Dati as saying: “Annulling a marriage is a way of protecting the person who perhaps wants to undo a marriage. I think this young girl wanted … to separate quite quickly. The law is there to protect vulnerable people.”
“French outrage at annulment because bride was not virgin”
Irish Times, May 31, 2008
“Outrage as French judge annuls Muslim marriage over bride’s virginity lie”
Times of London, May 31, 2008
“French marriage dissolved because the bride was not a virgin”
Times of London, June 1, 2008
“French Parties Criticize Marriage Nullified by False Virgin”
Bloomberg News, May 30, 2008
“Law and religion clash in France”
International Herald Tribune, June 2, 2008