French court reviews Muslim marriage
A Muslim couple asks a French appeals court to cancel their marriage because the bride was not a virgin.
23 September 2008
DOUAI -- A French Muslim couple urged a court Monday to end their marriage after officials blocked an earlier cancellation, granted because the bride was not a virgin.
France is a secular state, and public outrage at a ruling in April cancelling the marriage forced the government to order that the case be reviewed, against the wishes of both spouses.
State prosecutors said Monday they would allow the split if it were possible to replace the "discriminatory motive" of loss of virginity with a more general one, such as mistaken identity.
Neither the woman nor her husband, a Muslim engineer in his 30s, was at the hearing in the northern French town of Douai. Both asked the court to release them from their marriage vows, according to their lawyers.
The bride's lawyer, Charles-Edouard Mauger, said before the hearing his client was "very fragile" as a result of the scandal, and wanted to find a "way out of this marital bond that no longer has any meaning".
The groom wanted the cancellation after realising his bride was not a virgin on the night of their marriage in July 2006.
His wife, who admitted to him she had pre-marital sex, says she accepted the split and now wants to move on.
"We need to take the general interest of society into account, and not annul the union for questions of virginity, but we still need to find a motive to annul this marriage", her lawyer told reporters.
He said his client was "wronged in this case" and would ask for a symbolic one euro in damages.
The secretary general of the Douai prosecutor's office, Eric Vaillant, said there were several "ways out" for the couple.
"But the court of appeal has to accept the substitute motive. Judges may consider that in strict legal terms there are no grounds for annulment".
In that case, Vaillant said, "these people will remain married and they will just have to get a divorce".
The court in Lille that granted the initial cancellation did not mention the couple's religion but said the man's belief in the woman's virginity was a "determining factor" in his decision to marry her.
It said he was misled about an "essential quality" of his bride-to-be.
The ruling drew angry protests from groups that criticised it as a victory for religious fundamentalists and harmful to women’s freedom.
150 European parliament members wrote to France's Muslim-born justice minister, Rachida Dati, criticising it as an unacceptable intrusion of religion into public life.
Dati finally ordered an appeal in response to the many protests, but she insisted the ruling was legally acceptable, based on a break of trust between the pair, not the issue of virginity.
The justice minister also warned the case should not be used to stigmatise France's five-million-strong Muslim community, Europe's largest.
The ruling is expected on 17 November.
[AFP / Expatica]