Life, Liberty and the pursuit of (secular) happiness

So, there is a big case that was just decided in the French courts. Here’s the short of it:

A man files for divorce from his wife. Reason: the wife admitted to lying about her pre-marital state of virginity. The man and woman are both Muslim. For this man, it is a big deal, and filed for divorce based on the grounds that she misrepresented herself before the marriage. A French court agreed, and annulled the marriage on that very ground. Such is the freedom to pursue happiness: when you enter into a marriage, each individual looks for something different that draws them to the other: some it is physical attraction, others intelligence, money, power, fame …. and in some cases the fact that the future misses is a virgin.

But the French are outraged …. and perhaps the local Muslim population even moreso: said one leader of a mosque:

He likened the court decision to “equating marriage with a commercial transaction.

The trial ended back in April, but now that word has gotten out, the French government is appealing the decision, despite the fact that neither the former bride and groom want an appeal.

Said the Prime Minister:an appeal must be lodged “so this ruling does not set a judicial precedent.”

Now this is scary! At the heart of the matter is an article in the French civil code, which provides for an opportunity for the nullification of the marriage, if the “essential qualities” of a spouse are misrepresented.

Now, who defines “essential qualities”? Apparently, it is a legal definition, which means that the courts decide. The article notes that examples in the past have included impotence and prostitution, but a lot of the French are worried that “virginity” could now be deemed a legal “essential quality”.

To wit:  others are concerned that this could be a roll back on woman’s rights, and that this decision treats women as property.

My take is that this reeks of government invasion of privacy. A couple enter into marriage for different reasons (many noted above). We can surround it with whatever romantic and gleeful trappings we want, but at its heart, marriage is a form of contract between two people. The nature of that contract is not necessarily the same for every couple. For example, one married couple might not mind if their partner has sex outside of the marriage. Another couple could very much look at that same activity as absolute grounds for divorce, no questions asked.

In this case, the man needed a virgin. Religious reason claimed …. sounds like it. But at issue appears to be the right of one person to lie to another, and get away with it in a contractual obligation.

Getting to the point, how could a supposedly free nation, permit their government to interfere in so fundamental a right? Part of that reason is an attempt to suppress religious expression. Since this reason was so specifically religious in nature, the French are petrified that it represents some support for religion. This is in line with their secular statehood.

I am not in favor of mandatory virginity tests for women getting married. But, if two adults, absent coercion, are to enter into a marriage contract, it seems that the state must keep out of whatever reasons they are getting married for, and likewise should not set blocks to a misrepresentation of these affairs of the heart.


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