Our nation seems to be embarking upon an enormous social experiment with what seems to be the inevitable advent of same-sex marriage across the country. I do not think we have even begun to contemplate seriously what the implications of this experiment will be, but I feel quite certain that there will be unintended consequences that we will have to deal with on the fly.
Enter actor Jeremy Irons in a recent interview with the Huffington Post (see above). In a statement uncommon for Hollywood actors, he expresses some ambivalence about legal gay marriage and wonders whether it will debase traditional marriage by redefining it. And then he asks this question:
Could a father not marry his son? … It’s not incest between men. Incest is there to protect us from inbreeding, but men don’t breed… If that were so, then if I wanted to pass on my estate without death [taxes], I could marry my son and pass on my estate to him.
The interviewer quickly dismissed Irons’ concern saying that incest laws would prohibit this from happening. It turns out, however, that incest laws vary from state to state and may not necessarily rule this out. According to a 2006 article in the Harvard Law Review,
The criminal statutes vary widely; indeed, a few states impose no criminal penalties whatsoever on incestuous behavior. Rhode Island repealed its criminal incest statute in 1989, Ohio’s criminal statute targets only parental figures, and New Jersey does not punish acts committed when both parties are over eighteen years old. [source]
I am not a lawyer, but I suspect that Irons is correct. The lawyers are going to have a heyday with this one. What if New Jersey were to adopt legal gay marriage? Given its current permission for persons over 18 to commit incest, what would keep a father from marrying his son? I suppose this situation could be dealt with and excluded somehow through statute, but it just goes to show that the advent of gay marriage will have ripple effects that many Americans have not even begun to consider.