Wednesday, June 04, 2008

What Price Virginity?

This legal case from France is interesting:

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 and raised concerns the country's much-cherished secular values are losing ground to religious traditions from its fast-growing immigrant communities.

The decision also exposed the silent shame borne by some Muslim women who transgress long-held religious dictates 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 court decision "is a real fatwa against the emancipation and liberty of women. We are returning to the past," said Urban Affairs Minister Fadela Amara, the daughter of immigrants from Muslim North Africa, using the Arabic term for a religious decree.

The outcry has been unrelenting since word of the April 1 decision in the closed-door trial in Lille was made public last week by the daily newspaper Liberation. 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."

My title is slightly misleading, as the price is the annulment of the marriage not for virginity, but for lying about it. Sort of like misleading advertising about the product you sell. Or brides are seen as selling, I guess.

What's also interesting is that while most everyone dislikes the case, it may have trouble being appealed as neither of the original parties want to appeal it. Whether that means the case becomes a precedent for all French couples I do not know.

The wider questions it raises are interesting and somewhat troubling.