Incestuous Marriage

I was just answering a comment on my last post, to the effect that polygamy is the next item down the slippery slope of gay marriage. My answer was that I don’t believe it is. The natural extention of a right for any two unrelated people to get married, regardless of gender, is not the right of any three, four, five people to marry, nor even the right to marry one’s livestock, but the right of any two related people to get married.

So having nothing more controversial to talk about, and not wanting such an entertaining observation to be lost forever in comments, I figured I’d go on in this vein. Despite its status as one of the world’s oldest taboos, incest doesn’t really arouse any passions in the average person. And that’s odd. If I had to guess, I’d say that there are more incestuous desires out there in the world than homosexual ones.

For example, Veronica once had her eye on a male first cousin of ours - a relationship considered incestuous in over 30 of the 50 states. Not ours, fortunately, but he was about 20 years older than her so twue luv was unlikely to conquer all in their case. Many entirely non-consanguinous relationships have traditionally been considered incestuous, and not just in the law but in the court of common opinion - for example, Woody Allen’s relationship with Soon Yi, which was doubly non-consanguinous. (That is, Soon Yi wasn’t related by blood to either Woody Allen or Mia Farrow.)

Woody Allen notwithstanding, people do go to jail over incest, even without consanguinity. Consider the case of a woman and her teenage foster child, with issue, the Alabama love story of a father who claims his wife isn’t his daughter, and the case a while back of two siblings separated at a young age by the foster care system who claimed not to have known they were related at the time of their marriage, and continued to have children with medical problems after being found out and ordered to separate. I think the brother ended up in jail. (If you have a link for that one, I’d love to see it - I don’t remember if they were full or half-siblings.)

Someday the woman’s foster son will reach majority, and the woman will get out of jail. He wants to live with her and raise their two children. As in other incidents of non-consanguinous incest, it’s hard to see how the state can split these people up in light of the sweet-mystery clause. How can any non-consanguinous incest statute stand up to that?

Now, consider the six states where first cousins may marry if they’re infertile. That’s an open admission that incest laws are about not just consanguinity, but the likelihood of producing defective offspring. What then should be the policy in cases where reproduction is not just personally unfeasible, but biologically impossible? That is to say, what of gay incestuous marriage? What if a homosexual man wants to marry his brother, his son, a nephew, or a first cousin? Presumably, he can marry his male first cousin in those six states that permit infertile cousins to wed (AZ, ME, IL, IN, UT, WI).

That is, however, an artifact of the English language, in which cousin is a neutral term. For all other homosexual incestuous couples, the legality of their incest will depend entirely on how the incest law of the particular state is phrased. In Maryland, for example, the law specifies that a man cannot marry his daughter nor a woman her son, but no mention is made of a man marrying his son. A minority of states phrase their incest laws not as a catalogue of forbidden relationships but as a formula, such as Louisiana’s: Incest is the marriage to, or sexual intercourse with, any ascendant or descendant, brother or sister, uncle or niece, aunt or nephew, with knowledge of their relationship.

So the legality of gay incestuous marriage would depend on the exact phrasing of the law in any particular state. I find this sort of thing fascinating in and of itself, but thinking about it has shown me how homosexual marriage makes nonsense of the current marriage laws - in the sense that it brings new laws into being (regarding gay incestuous marriage) which no one intended by their original phrasing of their incest statutes.

2 Responses to “Incestuous Marriage”

  1. mike hollihan Says:

    More interesting thinking. I don’t agree about non-cousin incest being next. It makes great headlines, but its not that common. There was some story mentioned on talk radio Thursday about some guy who just got out of prison for having married is daughter and was alredy violating probation by shacking up with her in local motels.

    But, to quote you, “if marriage is a contract between two people.” Who says a contract must *only* be between two people/parties? Again, there has been, and still is today, a history of polygamy. If we reduce, through gay marriage and before that through no-fault divorce, all marriage to contracts, then widening to multiparty contracts is a much smaller step.

    BTW, haven’t the very rich always encouraged their progeny to marry within the larger tribe? I seem to recall that FDR and Eleanor were cousins, for example.

    Other points: IIRC correctly from my days raising tropical fish, to get the traits you wanted in your fish, you mated the father to his daughter and then his grand-daughter. I think it goes similarly in most animal husbandry, no? And I also STR that some study done within the past few years shows that human-cousin marriage is much less of a danger than once presumed. Not only that, but vastly improved medicine and abortion make the issue of issue much less of a concern, don’t they?

  2. mike hollihan Says:

    Oops. A link to a great analysis of the decline in the “meaning” of marriage since the Sixties and what it means to gay marriage is here: