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Author Topic: What exactly about incest is illegal?
Don Gato
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In all the debate over sodomy laws and gay marriage, people on both sides of the issue readily concede that incest should remain illegal. But I've always understood the rights of incestuous couples to be the essentially the same as gays post-Lawrence: free to engage in private sexual conduct, but not free to have that relationship granted legitimacy by the state. Am I mistaken? If the police bust into your house and catch you and Sis getting it on, are they allowed to arrest you? Or is it only when you go to the courthouse and apply for a marriage license?

And just for the record, this is purely an academic question; I don't even have any sisters [Smile]

Don Gato

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snopes
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Legislation Aims to Overhaul Old Incest Laws in States

http://www.vachss.com/av_articles/daily.html

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Ace_of_Sevens
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Andrew Sullivan has been digging up info on this for his blog. In several states, cousin marriages are legal if one or both parties is sterile. I think any closer relations are barred everywhere though. What exactly the justification for this is, I don't know.
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ASL
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I actually heard on the news that a study done had shown there is no genetic reason not to have sex and reproduce with your cousin... Yeah, I know, heard it on the news, hardly conclusive. But it puts the idea out there, I'll see if I can find a more reliable source.

ETA: Found a CNN report that might be useful:
http://edition.cnn.com/2002/LAW/04/columns/fl.grossman.incest.04.09/

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Mosherette
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I believe first cousin marriage (and thus marriage to any "lesser" relative) is legal over here.

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put it in writing
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I worked with a woman who married her first cousin, and they had children together. They hadn't known each other growing up, met in their late 20s, and fell in love. Nice folks, and their kids were perfectly fine.

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noftessa
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OK, if I remember correctly from my Constitutional Law class (which, judging by my grade in that class, I don't) I think that the government would have a significant interest in preventing siblings from reproducing. If the cops have a reason to be in your house and see this, and there is a law on teh books to prevent incest (which I think there is in most states), then yes, they can arrest you.

I think that if new evidence comes up (which, I think it has) that cousins reproducing does not cause the birth defects originally thought, and someone sues the government claiming it is unconstitutional to prevent first cousins from marrying or reproducing, then the courts can overturn the law.

But, the government (American) does have the right to interfere with personal rights as long as they have a significant interest in doing so. Preventing major birth defects that are likely to occur when siblings reproduce probably is considered a significant government interest.

nof "I have no idea whether this sounded coherent or not" tessa

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meanjelly
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quote:
nof "I have no idea whether this sounded coherent or not" tessa
you did a pretty good job if you ask me.

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Red Squirrel
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quote:
Originally posted by Rose Red:
I believe first cousin marriage (and thus marriage to any "lesser" relative) is legal over here.

Yes I used to live with a girl who was engaged to her cousin. They were from Devon too [Roll Eyes]

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Elkhound
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The rules for cousin marriages vary from State to state in the US. In some states they are legal, others they are not. One sometimes finds cousins moving to another state to get married, and then moving back; most states will recognize such marriages.

Apparently in Arab countries, cousin marriages are not only allowed, but encouraged. When I was teaching English over there, when we were doing kinship terms I put my own family tree on the blackboard. When they saw that I had a female first cousin about my own age, they asked why she and I weren't married. (Apparently it is to keep the dowry in the family.)

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snoozn
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It does seem the only legal interest the state would have is in the reproductive issues. This leads me to wonder....when my husband and I were married in Georgia, we had to take a standard blood test. I didn't pay much attention at the time, but I'm assuming that this was to see if we had any genetic similarities that might lead to birth defects in children. If a couple's blood test turns out positive (say they both have sickle cell trait or something), does this mean they can't get married? Or can only get married if one is sterilized? It seems that the same state interest applies here, so I'm just curious.

And on a not-really-related note, I must say that incest (between consenting adults) gives me the heebie-jeebies, whereas homosexual sex does not. Strange, I guess it shouldn't make a differene either way.

snoozn

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kyoko
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One of Arizona's more interesting laws is that you can legally marry your cousin, but it was recently added that you can't have kids with them.

Incest is more of a moral issue, but it actually was made illegal or restricted in many areas.

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Paul Unwin, I Presume
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quote:
Originally posted by snoozn:
This leads me to wonder....when my husband and I were married in Georgia, we had to take a standard blood test. I didn't pay much attention at the time, but I'm assuming that this was to see if we had any genetic similarities that might lead to birth defects in children.

You might like to read the Straight Dope on this topic.
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Meaty Pop
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quote:
Originally posted by snoozn:
It does seem the only legal interest the state would have is in the reproductive issues. This leads me to wonder....when my husband and I were married in Georgia, we had to take a standard blood test. I didn't pay much attention at the time, but I'm assuming that this was to see if we had any genetic similarities that might lead to birth defects in children.

I thought it was to make sure each one of you knew if the other had any STD's. Just to make sure you weren't hiding them.

Meaty Pop

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The Spider in the Ointment
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quote:
Originally posted by Don Gato:
In all the debate over sodomy laws and gay marriage, people on both sides of the issue readily concede that incest should remain illegal.

Two issues here...
1) Incest often involves an imbalanced relationship with a senior partner having a lot of power over the other. This can make things very difficult.

2) Breeding. The main taboo, since the offspring of immediately related family can be genetically defective.

Cousins is one thing. Your sibling, parent or child is another.

Of course, there is one more thing. Humans have an inbuilt psychological resistance to incestuous relationships. This can be broken if the parties are long out of contact etc, but it still applies in many cases.

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Ace_of_Sevens
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If I'm doing my math right, cousins share an average of 1/8th of your DNA. Thsi is compare to half for parents and siblings and a quarter for aunts, uncles and grandparents. Apparently, an eighth isn't anythign to get concerned about.
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blt
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I think the problem with cousins comes in when successive generations marry cousins frequently. The percentage of shared DNA starts to go up and you start to see problems.

As far as inate taboos against incest, anybody know if other primates share this inhibition?

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Hacker Barbie
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quote:
Originally posted by blt:


As far as inate taboos against incest, anybody know if other primates share this inhibition?

My turn to try to remember information learned in a class!

According to a pretty reputable professor I had last semester, chimps kind of do. I'm not exactly sure, but I believe that female chimps tend to go off to other chimp groups to breed or something. And females of another species (maybe bonobos, I'm not sure about this at all) tend to avoid having sex with males that are old enough to have fathered them. I remember reading a whole article about it in a course packet, but unfortunately, it's up in storage right now. The article was from some kind of a legit journal, but as I certainly can't provide cites right now, I'd take my whole post with a grain of salt.

From a sociological point of view, rules of exogamy arose to keep peace between neighboring tribes. You don't want to "waste" a marriage to marry someone from your tribe with whom you already have a good relationship. You should marry someone from a neighboring tribe or family group to establish a good relationship with them.

Diana

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Alexina
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My grandmother and grandfather married in... um ... 1918? in Massachusetts, and they were first cousins. My dad and all his siblings turned out fine. In fact, they're all brainiacs, so I guess it reinforced some good intelligence genes.

But, oooh! I have a genetics math question.

If two pairs of twins get married (say a pair of twin sisters marry two men who happen to be twin brothers), doesn't that mean that their kids are more closely related than normal cousins? In fact, wouldn't those cousins be siblings from a genetic standpoint?

Alexina

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tarheelnursek
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IIRC, didn't close intermarriage cause lots of problems with European royalty back in the late 19th-early 20th century? Most of them were related to each other thru Queen Victoria. I remember something about the hemophelia in the Russian royals coming from this.

Anybody know anything about early Egyptian royalty( brother and sister marriages)??

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Jinxie
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quote:
If two pairs of twins get married (say a pair of twin sisters marry two men who happen to be twin brothers), doesn't that mean that their kids are more closely related than normal cousins? In fact, wouldn't those cousins be siblings from a genetic standpoint?

This happened in my husbands family but they were not twins. My mil's brother married my fil's sister. They both had 2 boys and one girl in that order. The resemblance between them is uncanny. The 2 oldest boys look alike dark hair somewhat overweight, the 2 younger boys look alike, light brown hair and slim, and the same for the girls, blonde and slim.

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Mosherette
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quote:
Most of them were related to each other thru Queen Victoria. I remember something about the hemophelia in the Russian royals coming from this.

Yes, the haemophilia that affected Alexei came from his connection to the British Royal Family. Queen Victoria was a carrier of the disease, and transmitted it to her son Prince Leopold (who died of it) and two of her daughters were also carriers. One daughter (Princess Alice, mother of Tsarina Alexandra) was responsible for transmitting it into the Russian Royal Family, and the other (Princess Beatrice, King Juan Carlos's great grandmother) transmitted it to the Spanish Royal Family. (Edited to add that Queen Sofia is also related to Queen Victoria through her descent from the Greek Royal Family, but I don't think she is a haemophilia carrier.)

Haemophilia is not caused by incest, though. It *is* a genetic disease, caused by a faulty gene, but carriers and sufferers are not necessarily the products of close-family unions.

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wee wifey
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quote:
Originally posted by tarheelnursek:

Anybody know anything about early Egyptian royalty( brother and sister marriages)??

there were brother sister marriages, and father daughter marriages, but AFAIK no evidence of a reccesive genetic disease within these unions. In fact the only genetic disease I am aware of within the Egyptian Pharoahs, was that of Akenaten, who is thought to have suffered with Marfans. His parents, Amenhotep III and Tiye, were definately not related, as she was Nubian.

The disease was "passed on" to Tutankhamen, however his mother, Nefertitti was not related to his father either. It could however have been the reason why Tutankhamen's children did not survive, as Tut's wife, Ankhesenamen, was also his sister.

little miss

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The Spider in the Ointment
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Talking of royalty, Queen Victoria, appears not to have just carried haemophilia, but arguably porphyria, which may have come to her via mad King George, James I of England and Mary Queen of Scots. She's also supposed to carried some bone condition too... So it has been claimed that her genes, and all her offspring helped bring down the monarchies of Spain and Russia... Very possible.

This is all avoiding the question of Royal adultery - see other thread somewhere on this baord.

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DemonWolf
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quote:
Originally posted by Rose Red:
Haemophilia is not caused by incest, though. It *is* a genetic disease, caused by a faulty gene, but carriers and sufferers are not necessarily the products of close-family unions.

You are correct. it is not caused by inbreeding, however, inbreeding can caused the liklyhood of the recessive trait surfacing to be greatly increased. intermarrage will dilute the blood and decrease the chances of this happening.

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Don Gato
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quote:
Originally posted by Ace_of_Sevens:
If I'm doing my math right, cousins share an average of 1/8th of your DNA. Thsi is compare to half for parents and siblings and a quarter for aunts, uncles and grandparents. Apparently, an eighth isn't anythign to get concerned about.

This William Saletan article in Slate from last year makes the point that we're essentially talking about a continuum here, and the idea behind incest laws is that we have to draw the line somewhere. Most states draw it at first cousins, but there's no particular scientific reason to draw it there.

All couplings risk producing children with birth defects. Incest increases that possibility (although it is certainly not the only factor that does so). Our laws declare a certain level of increase to be unacceptable, but Saletan's point is that we make that decision on moral grounds.

Personally, I have no problem with that. I don't agree with the ultra-libertarian viewpoint that morality has no place in laws, and I think that by sexualizing familial relationships, incest is incredibly damaging to the family as an institution (as opposed to homosexuality, which I don't see as threatening at all). That's why the Santorum "slippery slope" argument is off base. The state has a compelling interest in regulating incest that simply does not exist when it comes to gays.

Oh, and to whoever asked: When a pair of brothers marries a pair of sisters, whether or not any of them are twins, their kids are called double cousins. I remember first learning of the concept in a genetics class, and yes, such people are a closer genetic match, and are therefore at a higher risk of birth defects than regular first cousins. However, as Saletan points out, most laws don't distinguish between double and first cousins.

Don Gato

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