French court annuls Muslim marriage because wife wasn't a virgin

Via Robert Jago. At first glance I thought this was one of those cases involving a contract written according to shari’a principles and then enforced by a civil court as any contract might be. Those pop up from time to time even in the U.S. and always elicit some grumbling, although they usually have to do with financial arrangements — inheritance, say, or loans — and not the more “colorful” aspects of shari’a, so no one much cares. This would have been different had it been the same thing. But it isn’t. There’s no shari’a contract here from what I can tell. They got married under regular ol’ French law, which provides for an annulment in cases where one spouse is guilty of deceiving the other about some “essential quality.” (Breach of the standard state marriage contract, in other words.) Evidently, virginity now qualifies as an “essential quality”:

The decision by a court in Lille has triggered outrage from the Government, media, feminists and rights organisations since it surfaced in a legal journal on Thursday. Patrick Devedjian, leader of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement, said that it was unacceptable that the law could be used for religious reasons to repudiate a bride. It must be modified “to put an end to this extremely disturbing situation”, he said…

The annulment was defended by Xavier Labbée, the lawyer for Ms Y. The decision was justified because of the bride’s deception, not her virginity, he said. “Quite simply it is about a lie,” he said. “The groom realised that his wife had not told him the truth. Religion did not motivate the decision … but it is true that religious convictions played a role.”

I can’t tell from the reports whether the court applied an objective or subjective standard in deciding that virginity is essential, and I also can’t decide which would be worse. If it’s subjective, i.e. if the question is “does this particular husband regard it as essential,” then the court’s potentially building out a separate legal track for Muslims and/or anyone else who might culturally place a greater value on virginity than the French do generally. If it’s objective, i.e. if the question is “would any reasonable husband regard it as essential,” then this becomes valid grounds for any Frenchman to seek an annulment and Europe’s most famously permissive culture will have taken a mighty nuanced turn. Follow the link to the Times of London and read through to see how the incentives flowing from the decision are being gamed out: Feminists say, correctly, that this is only going to encourage Muslim women to seek hymenoplasties while “Liberation” argues (ironically) that this could be a useful legal escape hatch for women subjected to arranged marriages. The way to undo this lickety split, of course, would be for a court to uphold the ruling — and extend it so that it applies equally to men. Chastity until marriage on penalty of annulment? The French parliament would have a new bill ready within a week.