Key Points:

DOUAI, France - A French appeals court overturned on Monday a ruling by a lower tribunal that annulled the marriage of a Muslim woman accused of lying about being a virgin.

The marriage was annulled earlier this year when a court held that the woman had lied over what is called in French law an "essential quality", in this case her virginity. It ruled that the marriage contract was therefore invalid.

The case sparked outrage from both feminists and human rights activists shocked that a court could consider virginity an "essential quality".

Some politicians also expressed concern that conservative Muslim values were creeping into French law.

The couple, a computer specialist in his 30s and a trainee nurse in her 20s, were married in 2006 in the northern French city of Lille but the husband rejected his wife after discovering on the wedding night that she was not a virgin.

Following the public uproar, the government ordered an appeal. The court in Douai ruled that virginity "is not an essential quality in that its absence has no repercussion on matrimonial life".

It also rejected the argument that by lying about her past love life, the wife had destroyed the mutual confidence needed in a marriage and that this was in itself grounds for annulment.

Justice Minister Rachida Dati, the child of North African immigrants, initially supported the annulment, saying it offered the woman a way out of a marriage she may not have wanted. But after a public outcry, she withdrew support and ordered state prosecutors to appeal.

Monday's ruling means that the marriage, which neither husband nor wife wished to continue, stands.

After initially resisting the annulment, the woman consented and the marriage was annulled in April.

"We're back to the situation before the first ruling," a court official said.

- REUTERS