French Annulment Of Muslim "Virgin" Marriage Exposes Underlying Tension

M. X and Mlle. Y were working professionals of North African decent living in France. M. X, an engineer, had become increasingly religious as of late, and his fiancee, Mlle. Y, had promised him that she was a virgin before they wed. On the wedding night, M. X stormed into the still-bumping wedding party to rant that his wife had lied; there was no bloody sheet, and so she was not a virgin. M. X asked for, and was granted, an annulment by French courts, based on Article 180 of French Civil Code, which allows for immediate dissolution of marriage if one spouse "fails to fulfill an 'essential' part of their pre-wedding agreement," according to the Independent. The ruling has inflamed an already touchy French national subject: separation of church and state. Fadela Amara, a minister from France's largely African-immigrant populated suburbs called the ruling a "fatwa against the emancipation of women." Rachida Dati (at left), France's first senior minister of North African descent, supported the ruling, to much criticism.

Dati said last week, "The justice system is there to protect the weak and the modest when they are in difficulty," and according to the Independent, "Everyone from the far left to Marine Le Pen on the far right piled in to accuse her of insensitivity, of lack of understanding of France's secular tradition and – implicitly – of being soft on Islam." Dati has been oft-criticized since she took office, and in this scenario, as in many others, some believe that she is "resented especially by several experienced, male, white, centre-right politicians who think that they have a superior claim to her plum job," the Independent notes.

The court ruling was not based on the fact that Mlle. Y was not a virgin — her husband was granted the annulment because she lied, and many Catholic spouses have been granted annulments in France based on Article 180, although anthropologist Dounia Bouzar called the court ruling "a victory for fundamentalists and a victory for those who look at Islam as an archaic religion that treats women badly."

In some ways the case reminds me of the Alexander Payne satire Citizen Ruth, as neither bride nor groom wants to appeal the annulment, and an otherwise private matter has been made a talking point for two contentious sides of a national debate. However, what sticks out to me is the "proof" that Mlle. Y was lying about her non-virgin status. Hymens can break without aid of a penis, and not every woman bleeds upon first intercourse, though the details of the court proceedings are not in any of the articles, so I don't know whether the wife subsequently admitted to prior sex. But just like the abortion debate in Citizen Ruth, the fevered strife between those who revere France's staunchly secular past (some of whom exhibit a measure of xenophobia) and those who are looking towards a more flexible future are not about to end any time soon.

UPDATE: from commenter ohnoela, "For those questioning about the proof— it's a well known fact in France that Mlle Y admitted to her non-virginity right after. I saw some quote from her lawyers about it, or maybe it was in her deposition— either way, even though the non-bloody sheet (ridiculous, ugh) was the cause of suspicion, the annulment decision was based on more than a lack of blood. As far as I know, she confessed as soon as her husband made the accusation." Thanks ohnoela!

Rise Of Rachida Dati: The Minister, The 'Virgin Bride' And The Row That's Dividing A Nation [Independent]

France Appeals Annulment Of Muslim Marriage Over Bride's Virginity Lie [Telegraph]