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French court reverses virgin marriage annulment

Video by Luke BROWN

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-18

A French court reversed the annulment of the marriage of a Muslim couple which sparked outrage, forcing the justice department to review the case. The couple obtained the annulment after the husband discovered his bride was not a virgin.

A French appeal court overturned Monday a ruling that annulled the marriage of a Muslim couple after the husband discovered his bride was not a virgin, the husband's lawyer said.
  
Public outrage at April's annulment ruling forced the government to order the case be reviewed, against the wishes of both spouses.
  
The groom, a Muslim engineer in his 30s whose name was not made public, sought the annulment after realising his bride was not a virgin on the night of their marriage in a civil ceremony in July 2006.
  
His wife, who admitted to him she had had pre-marital sex, said she accepted the annulment.
  
"This ruling is very worrying," the groom's lawyer Xavier Labbee said after Monday's decision by a court in the northern town of Douai, adding: "Our individual liberties are seriously threatened."
  
Lawyers for both parties had requested at a hearing in September that the annulment be maintained.
  
State prosecutors had said they were not against allowing the split if it were possible to replace the "discriminatory motive" of loss of virginity with a more general one, such as mistaken identity.
  
The court in the northern city of Lille that granted the initial annulment 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 had been misled about an "essential quality" of his bride-to-be.
  
The ruling drew furious protests from rights groups, who slammed it as a victory for religious fundamentalists and a blow to the emancipation of women that set a dangerous legal precedent.
  
Some 150 European parliament members wrote to France's Muslim-born justice minister, Rachida Dati, denouncing it as an unacceptable encroachment of religion in the public sphere.
  
Dati finally ordered an appeal in the face of a wall of protest, but she continued to insist the ruling was legally sound, based on a breach of trust between the pair, not the issue of virginity itself.
  
The justice minister also warned the case should not be used to stigmatise France's five-million-strong Muslim community, Europe's largest.

Date created : 2008-11-17

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