A court decision to annul a Muslim couple's marriage because the bride lied about being a virgin discriminates against women and should be overturned, state prosecutors argued Monday.

A court in the northern town of Douai annulled the 2006 marriage in April because the husband discovered on his wedding night that his bride had lied about her virginity. The decision caused an uproar, with some in France calling it a sign that the country's secular values are losing ground to the traditions of its fast-growing immigrant communities. There are some 5 million Muslims in France.

The lower court based its decision on an article of the French Civil Code that states that a spouse can seek an annulment if the partner has misrepresented his or her "essential qualities."

Eric Vaillant, a spokesman for the Douai appeals court, said prosecutors told the three-judge tribunal during a nearly two-hour hearing that a woman's virginity is "in no way ... an essential quality," as the lower court had suggested.

Making a wife's virginity a condition of marriage "would be discriminatory because it would harm the principles of equality between men and women, of free use of one's body and the dignity of the human being," Vaillant said by telephone, summarizing the prosecution's argument.

The prosecution said it was not opposed to the idea of annulling the marriage, which neither couple now wants, but the motive must be "legitimate," in conformity with the principles upheld by France.

Vaillant said the court could base an annulment on an "error about the person, with the couple discovering their true respective personalities on the wedding night" instead of basing it on a false virginity claim.

"We are offering an exit door," he said.

Should the appeals court agree to simply scrap the annulment, the couple will remain married and be forced to seek a divorce.

The couple, a man in his 30s and a woman in her 20s, has not been identified by name. Neither was present in court, Vaillant said.

A verdict is expected Nov. 17.