Divorce may be the most common way to end a marriage in the United States, but it's certainly not the only way. Annulment, or the legal voiding of a marriage, allows spouses to legally erase a marriage. That is, marriages that end in annulment never happened in the eyes of the law (with some complicated caveats).
A recent incident in France raised important questions about the conditions on which a marriage can be annulled. According to the Associated Press, a judge in Lille ruled to annul the marriage of two Muslims in France after the groom discovered on the wedding night that his bride was not a virgin.
Apparently, the bride had "misrepresented herself" as a virgin, and therefore the contract of marriage was void. Unsurprisingly, the ruling has raised an outcry in France, particularly among those who worry that religious values are beginning to influence the country's traditionally secular laws.
Other protestors of the decision reportedly feel that women's rights are at stake if the ruling is upheld, since the traditional Muslim requirement that a woman must enter marriage as a virgin is at odds with modern France's more sexually-liberated society.
In most countries, a marriage can be annulled if either spouse was in violation of the terms of the marriage contract at the time of the wedding. Common reasons for annulment include the following:
One of the reasons the French annulment has raised the ire of so many people is that the "breach of contract" ruling recognizes virginity as an "essential quality" of the marriage in question, even though French law does not recognize virginity as an essential quality of all marriages.
That is, the contract breached was based on religious principles, and the ruling in secular court could set an uncomfortable precedent for the nation's non-Muslims.
Sources indicate that both left-wing and right-wing French politicians have called for an appeal of the case, and one is scheduled for later this year, though the couple involved is evidently eager to leave the spotlight.