"French Court Reverses Virgin Annulment":

I blogged about the case in June; an appeal court just reversed the original decision yesterday:

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....

His wife, who admitted to him she had had pre-marital sex, said she accepted the annulment....

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....

My thinking on the matter remains what it was in June:

In principle, it seems to me that a spouse should be free to divorce the other spouse when the marriage was based on a lie. I think it's silly to care about whether one's bride was a virgin, but people are entitled to care about qualities that I think are irrelevant, as well as the indubitably relevant quality of truthfulness. Given this, it seems to me not very important whether this is called a divorce or an annulment, especially given that as I understand it French law generally allows no-fault divorce, at least when there's mutual consent.

Now I would be troubled if the law saw lack of virginity as a quality that is "essential" but other things as qualities that aren't "essential." That would be an endorsement by the legal system of the unsound view that virginity is extraordinarily important in a wife. I would also be troubled if the law encourages disputes about exactly what was said by one spouse to the other, since I suspect this would lead to lots of lying and not much truth-finding.

But if the couple agrees about the facts, and agrees that, to quote the AP's paraphrase of the court ruling, "in this particular marriage, virginity was a prerequisite," then allowing the annulment seems to me fine. In fact, it's better for the court to focus on what was essential to the parties rather than to select which qualities are "objectively" essential and which aren't objectively essential. I'm a big believer in decisionmaking using objective standards in lots of situations — but two people's decision about what's important to them about a spouse doesn't strike me as a situation that calls for such objective standards. And, I stress again, if the parties could have gotten divorced in any event, why the strong objection to letting them get an annulment instead?

Now I understand that there is a lot of insistence on virginity in many Muslim families (and some non-Muslim ones, though my sense is that in France this insistence is likely much less common among the non-Muslim population). As I said before, I think this is a bad basis for choosing a spouse, and I suspect that a cultural acceptance of this basis leads to all sorts of emotional pain. On top of that, my guess is that the virginity rule is definitely not applied in a sex-neutral way, which makes it even more improper in my view.

But, as I said, people are entitled to choose their spouses based on any reason at all, and to my knowledge French law allows them to agree to divorce based on any reason at all (again, at least if both agree). Saying that they may also annul the marriage based on any misrepresentation that they saw as material strikes me as no different: It's an accommodation of people's choices about whom to have a tremendously important relationship with, and we should generally accommodate those choices even when we think they are partly unwise — I say partly because while the insistence on virginity strikes me as unsound, the concern about the lie strikes me as much more proper — or reinforce unsound community attitudes.

Thanks to Religion Clause for the pointer.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. "French Court Reverses Virgin Annulment":
  2. "Outcry After French Court Rules on Virginity":