`Virgin’ bride ruling stirs furor in France

Muslim wasn’t chaste, court annuls marriage

Jun 05, 2008 04:30 AM

ELAINE GANLEY

Associated Press (From the Toronto Star)

PARIS–The bride said she was a virgin. When her new husband discovered that was a lie, he went to court to annul the marriage – and a French judge agreed.

The ruling ending the Muslim couple’s union has stunned France, raising concerns the country’s cherished secular values are losing ground to cultural traditions from growing immigrant communities.

The decision also exposed the silent shame borne by some Muslim women who transgress long-held customs demanding proof of virginity on the wedding night.

In its ruling, the court concluded the woman had misrepresented herself as a virgin and that, in this particular marriage, virginity was a prerequisite.

But in treating the case as a breach of contract, the ruling was decried by critics who said it undermined decades of progress in women’s rights. Marriage, they said, was reduced to the status of a commercial transaction in which women could be discarded by husbands claiming to have discovered hidden defects in them.

The ruling “is a real fatwa against the emancipation and liberty of women. We are returning to the past,” said Urban Affairs Minister Fadela Amara, daughter of immigrants from Muslim North Africa, using the Arabic term for religious decree.

The outcry has been unrelenting since the April 1 decision in the closed-door trial in Lille was reported last week by the newspaper Libération. In its judgment, the tribunal said the 2006 marriage had been ended, based on “an error in the essential qualities” of the bride, “who had presented herself as single and chaste.”

Justice Minister Rachida Dati shrugged off the ruling until public clamour reached such a pitch she asked the prosecutor’s office this week to lodge an appeal.

What began as a private matter “concerns all the citizens of our country and notably women,” a statement from her ministry said.

The woman, a student in her 20s, and man, an engineer in his 30s, are opposed to an appeal, according to their lawyers.

http://www.thestar.com/News/World/article/437510

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