A French judge annulled a marriage because the bride lied about being a virgin. The annulment happened two months ago. When the story recently came out in a legal journal, the French Justice Minister shrugged it off. No big deal. This is to be expected if marriage is just a private contract. One party lies in a contract, the court can abrogate the agreement.
And then the details came out. The bride and groom are Muslims. The wedding reception was still going on in the immigrant neighborhood when the groom came back downstairs to announce that the bride had not bloodied the sheets.
The hue and cry has been enormous. The Justice Minister, herself the daughter of North African immigrants, was forced to reverse her initial reaction and appeal the annulment.
The French, like many Western Europeans, want marriage to be a private choice if the couple uses secular and middle class standards of who can be involved, of what sexes, for how long, perhaps how many to include. On the other hand, they want marriage to be publicly regulated if the couple uses religious or working class standards of what makes a proper marriage.
Marriage became a public institution when the church and the state regulated and celebrated the couple's vow to one another, their children, their community, and, for the vast majority of people on earth, to God. Marriage became a public institution to protect the vulnerable -- usually the woman, often the poor, always the children. It is a great civilizational step forward that marriage is a public institution. Society rediscovers this when the state is asked to back a private marriage contract that undermines that protection.