June 2, 2008 / 6:52 PM / 11 years ago

French minister asks for appeal in virginity case

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s Justice Minister Rachida Dati formally asked the public prosecutor’s office on Monday to appeal a court ruling which annulled the union of two Muslims because the wife had lied about being a virgin.

Heated debate over French marriage laws erupted after the national press reported last week on the verdict, which was handed down by a court in the northern city of Lille in April.

Politicians, feminists and human rights activists have denounced the court’s ruling as an affront to the legal equality of men and women and a violation of a woman’s privacy.

“The annulment of a marriage by the court in Lille has sparked lively social debate. This private affair goes beyond the relations between two people and concerns all citizens of our country, especially women,” the justice ministry said.

Dati has lodged a request for the public prosecutor’s office to file an appeal against the court’s judgement, the ministry said in a statement.

In an online interview broadcast by the Figaro newspaper, Prime Minister Francois Fillon said that while he understood the reason behind the judge’s decision, the case merited an appeal.

“I think it is normal in such circumstances to request a new ruling,” he said, adding that the country’s highest court needed to spell out that the verdict does not set a precedent.

Concerns about traditional Muslim views creeping into secular French law has also shrouded debate over the case.

The husband’s lawyer has denied that religion had anything to do with the verdict. The ruling hinged on a legal article saying an annulment could be sought if there was an error concerning “essential qualities” of one of the spouses. (Reporting by Laure Bretton and Thierry Leveque; editing by Brian Rohan and Ibon Villelabeitia)

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