Sunday, June 1, 2008

Se Refaire une Virginité

Some stories arouse in me a curiosity to know what readers think rather than to let them know what I think. The recent judicial annulment of a marriage, in which the bride, who had represented herself as a virgin to her future husband and his family, turned out not to be, is such a case. The fact that the parties are Muslim and that the issue is sexual has unleashed a torrent of commentary. Few commentators have asked what would have ensued had the judge not annulled the marriage (here is one exception). Surely a divorce--and I'm not sure how that solution would have left anyone better off than an annulment, to which the wife consented. In any event, Charles Bremner summarizes the case and commentaries here. One lawyer's commentary is here; another here. What do you think, readers?

ADDENDUM: It looks as though this case will create another cleavage in the majority.


Francofou said...

Not a comment, but a question. Assuming both parties sought an end to the marriage, they would need to find a pretext that would satisfy both sharia and civil law.
What are the options?

Anonymous said...

Marriage is, among other things, a contract between two people, and it seems that in this case, this woman intentionally lied on a point that was deemed essential for the marriage by the man she wanted to marry. Therefore I am not surprised or shocked by this story.

Unknown said...

Divorce by mutual consent is a simple matter under civil law, simpler than annulment, and can be obtained immediately after marriage. See:

I don't know about sharia, but I assume misrepresentation of virginity would suffice.

Alex Price said...

I haven’t been following the story closely, but I find the layers of reaction interesting. On the one hand, there was apparently a lot of uproar about the decision, meaning, I’m assuming, that editorialists, politicians, and various radio and television commentators expressed disagreement with the decision. I heard some of this on the RTL show “On refait le Monde,” in which, if I recall correctly, three out of four commentators expressed dismay with the annulment decision. But on the same show the next day, a different group of commentators (the show rotates commentators; only the host remains the same) concluded that the uproar really amounted to a kind of “racism,” a manifestation of prejudice against muslims. So I think there has been a bit of backlash against the initial reaction, a realization that it could have an antimuslim character. At the same time, stress has been laid on the issue of lying as a basis for the annulment rather than on virginity or the lack thereof.

Timur Friedman said...

Much of the excitement, aside from the usual frenzy of fear of difference in general and Islam in particular, is probably due to the wording of the law. Annulment can be granted if there was fraud concerning an "essential quality" of one of the parties. For the layman it is not entirely clear what makes something an "essential quality": is it to be considered objectively or subjectively? If it is purely objective then the quality is a criterion accepted and endorsed by the state as a matter of public policy. If there is a subjective aspect then we would assume that the term "essential quality" is a sort of reasonable person test, to weed out frivolous requests for annulment ("I thought she was a blonde!")

Most of the critics are (willfully or otherwise) reading "essential quality" to be an objective criterion. Of course it is impossible to see today's French state proclaiming the essentiality of a person's virginity. But all the lawyers who I've read on the subject describe a degree of subjectivity in determining what is an essential quality. If there is subjectivity then any serious critic of the decision must be prepared to argue that it is not reasonable for any person in French society to elevate virginity to such a level of importance when entering into marriage. Some are making just this argument; they are not champions of pluralism.

MYOS said...

The controversy reached another level today when the Justice Minister apparently saidwith great rage the decision was a result of Socialist mismanagement in the 1990's and that they hated her because she had escaped their plan.
(a video has been circulating showing the uproar - TV news mostly showed two fellow UMP senators plus one PS expressing a certain amount of dismay and embarassement)

I apologize because this relates only to women in politics in France but I don't know where to post it and I though the column, the facts it describes (frequent - I witnessed with amazement similar sentences being uttered by Mr. Santini on public television just last year, as he addressed Marielle de Sarnez, whom he also called "girl" - une fille)
However the topic can offer interesting jumping-off points for comparison and discussion so here it is:

Unknown said...

Thanks for the link. As for Dati's outburst, it seemed rather bizarre to me. It would appear that she has been forced to reverse her initial position on the case, and perhaps she found this upsetting. Her personal investment in the matter is comprehensible, but an official in her position needs to achieve a certain objectivity in presenting her views.

Anonymous said...

What interests me most about this case -- and I'll admit I don't understand the ins and outs of the civil code on divorce and annulment -- is the outrage about what seems, in the end, to have been a decision for legal convenience made by two individuals for purely personal reasons. Both parties wanted the marriage to end. So, how did this become a public debate about how this marriage should have ended and its supposed repercussions for the millions who weren't parties to the marriage?

What people like Elizabeth Badinter are angry about is that the marriage was ended by annulment in reference to a "breach of contract" over virginity, as opposed to a divorce pure and simple. Few of us would dispute that the attitude of the groom is repugnant. But how does the current state of things advance the cause of women's rights? Could the annulment really have the force of precedent and allow men to repudiate non-virgin women who did not (as this woman did) want to end the marriage? That seems unlikely to me; maybe others with more legal knowledge will correct me.

So what you end up with is a means to end a marriage chosen by two people for their convenience resulting in a shit storm of epic proportions. The case becomes a place for the ignorant many to pour out their anger about Islam's supposedly "Medieval" attitudes about women -- of course Islam didn't bring the case, and moderate Islamic leaders are in a difficult place over how to respond. Meanwhile, the case reveals cleavages over difficult issues on the left. IMHO, no one benefits here, except maybe the far right -- certainly not women.

I wish those who claimed the mantle of women's rights and got this thing started had given more credit to the woman involved, rather than assuming she had no agency and needed their help and protection. As she has apparently commented "I don't know who's trying to think in my place." It's eqully a shame that Dati was pressured into reversing herself; it will only prolong this. Grow up, people; the civil courts are where people go to end their marriages and the stories they tell there are not always a credit to humanity, not always true, and none of our business -- especially when they both want out of the marriage.