Culture,  Politics

How incest exposes the emptiness of “marriage equality”

I just finished reading an article in New York Magazine that I wish I could unread. It is an interview with a young woman engaged to marry her own father. I am not even going to link the interview here–it is just too vile and disturbing to share. You can read USA Today’s coverage of the situation here if you are interested.

I mention the article because it raises some issues for the “marriage equality” movement. The sexual revolutionaries have been pushing to normalize any an all sexual relationships so long as they are between consenting adults. In effect, the only constraint on sexual morality is consent. Flowing from that, is the idea that two consenting adults who love one another should be able to “marry” one another even if they are of the same sex. To deny them their right to marry is denying them equal rights. Or so the argument goes.

But this story of an incestuous relationship exposes the weakness of this reasoning. If consent really is the only sexual norm, then we are left with no moral or legal grounds to deny recognition to incestuous unions. We have no response to those demanding “marriage equality” for those who have so-called “Genetic Sexual Attraction.” If consent is the only constraint on sexual relationships, then there are all manner of taboo relationships that now must be accepted into the mainstream. Incest would only be one variation.

Proponents of “marriage equality” know that this is an implication that they cannot live with. And it is why, for instance, that Samantha Allen argues at The Daily Beast that there is no such thing as consensual incest. She argues that even if both parties are of age, the parent-child relationship always has an unequal power dynamic that renders consent impossible.

But here’s the problem with Allen’s reasoning. Even if we grant her case on this point (that consent is impossible between parent and child), one can imagine that consent would be possible in other incestuous scenarios. What if a brother and a sister–both over the age of consent–decided to form a union? Or a brother and a brother? Or a sister and a sister? Wouldn’t we still sense something amiss with those unions as well? I think that we would, but our moral repugnance for such relationships would have very little to do with consent. In fact we would be right to oppose such relationships even if both parties consented to it.

This story about incest exposes the fact that consent alone is not enough to ground a sexual ethic. Nor is it sufficient to define who should be allowed to marry. It also shows that when proponents for “marriage equality” say that any two people who love each other ought to have the right to marry, they don’t really mean it. The possibility of state-sanctioned incest proves that.


  • dr. james willingham

    I hope this is not a reduction of egalitarianism to those who misrepresent it by advocating conduct condemned by the word of God. In 1985 I had five cases of incest come to me. I had encountered such previous to that time as a social worker in Missouri and Kentucky. In any case, the problem seemed overwhelming. As a result I enrolled in the first distance learning program for a graduate degree in counseling established by Liberty University. During that two year program I wrote a paper on the subject which resulted in my being assigned that pathology as a member of a counseling staff at senior high school. In any case, to blame equality for aberrations is the same as to blame complementarism for those marriages where the father has used his position to sexually abuse his children – and incest is sexual abuse no matter how nice, etc. The trauma, and it is trauma, so disrupts the child’s life that he or she has problems of many kinds through out their adult years, e. g., promiscuity, inability to be industrious and to hold down a job. The real point is that complementarianism involves checks and balances just as egalitarianism does, I. e., transgender and the use of bathrooms by those who think they are something else while having all of the physical equipment of another shows no respect for those who are not ashamed of their gender and do not want the presence of someone of the opposite sex in their bathroom with the exception of husbands or wives.

  • Curt Day

    Why does incest, with its obvious negative effect, undo the arguments for same-sex marriage? And why are Conservative Christians so hot to have society prohibit same-sex marriage while not caring about war, wealth disparity and economic classism, and the destruction of the environment caused by our way of life?

    The real issue here control Too many of us religiously Conservative Christians want to control society. And that control extends to the private behavior of nonChristians. That is the real issue here.

      • Curt Day

        Actually, the real issue is control. Why? Because the broader issue here is how we will share society with unbelievers. Will we share it as equals or will we assume or feel entitled or obligated to take some kind of superior position. And if we assume a superior position, how will that affect their listening to the Gospel? Will our superior position become an unnecessary stumbling block to listening to the Gospel?

    • Johnny Mason

      Curt, here is what you said in another thread:

      “Provided that we have the participation of consenting adults, why, considering the Declaration of Independence and one of its basic tenets, marriage to the partner of one’s choice is not a basic human right is mystery.”

      And when called on this very thing you deflect.

      It also appears that you are perfectly fine with Christians using their faith when legislating against wealth disparity, classism, and the environment. And doesn’t that imply the control of private behavior?

      • James Stanton

        Johnny, I think this a very good point but also that these arguments are mostly irrelevant anyway. What’s clear is the social conservatives are almost out of legal impediments to marriage to the partner of one’s choice. The judiciary will likely resolve what some state legislatures and electorates have already decided. There is no constitutional case to restrict civil marriage to heterosexuals.

        It’s actually a very weak argument to expect that gay marriage supporters or people in the mushy middle would change their minds because of a nonexistent threat of legal incest. Denny raises the spectre or bogeyman of sexual revolutionaries who have no limits at all in mind. I’d say arguments like these make clear why social conservatives have failed at persuading the people who are of two minds on the issue.

        I would not be surprised if Denny’s alarmism over legalized incest turns out to be valid in the long-term but seeing as there is no constituency for this as a cause I feel it is very unlikely anytime soon. The only reason gay marriage will be legalized nationally is because society is changing at a rapid pace on this question and the Supreme Court has a bias towards protecting it’s legacy in accordance with the elite consensus.

        The only definition of marriage that matters is God’s and that won’t change.

      • Curt Day

        But answers also depend on context.

        In addition, the question is when relying on faith for legislation, how do we want to share society with unbelievers? Do we want to share society as equals or as superiors? So when you compare where I believe we can appeal to faith for legislation and where we should not, you have to look at how we are sharing that society. When it comes to social injustice, we are dealing with the commandments that prohibit murder and theft. And neglecting those in need can be a violation of both commandments. But when we are talking about legislating against sexual immorality and other personal sins, we need to look at the NT and how it regards society. And from what I’ve seen from both Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching on church discipline, that discipline should not be extended to society.

        So your objection to me is based on too broad a principle, a principle I don’t believe in. That principle will either say God’s law must determine everything we legislate or have nothing to do with what we legislate. I don’t agree with either option. The real question is, what issues are we using our faith to pass legislation on?

        • Johnny Mason

          “A principle I dont believe in”

          You said this: ““Provided that we have the participation of consenting adults, why, considering the Declaration of Independence and one of its basic tenets, marriage to the partner of one’s choice is not a basic human right is mystery.”

          You appear to be arguing with yourself. If consenting adults who are siblings want to marry, then are you denying them basic human rights by not allowing them to marry? Is it a mystery?

          So what is your principle? It seemed pretty clear in your statement. Are you backtracking now?

          • Curt Day

            The principle is simple, those who commit incest who share at least one parent have a very high degree of probability that their children will suffer birth defects. This has to do with those defects that rely on recessive genes.

            See, life is sometimes more complicated than to rely on one principle. And it seems that the principle that many of my fellow Christians rely on in this debate is that they should be the privileged ones to determine the laws and mores of society. They don’t want to share society with others as equals.

  • Ian McGinty

    “It also shows that when proponents of ‘marriage equality’ say that any two people who love each other ought to have the right to marry, they don’t really mean it.”

    Or, even more disturbingly, it could indicate that they really do mean it. And not only any two consenting adult people, but perhaps any number of consenting anythings; whether adult, human, or otherwise. In deed, the very need for consent is likely to erode rather quickly, too.

    • Ian Shaw

      It does mean that those proponents don’t mean “everyone”. Article came out after a Utah judge allowed Kody Brown and “sister Wives” lawsuit to proceed on polygamy in Utah-

      Cheryl Jacques, the first openly lesbian member of the Massachusetts state senate and one-time president of the Human Rights Campaign (a group championing homosexual marriage), was once asked why polygamy was wrong. Her response was, “Because I don’t approve of that.”

      Is that how it works? Is that how the question of what marriages are in and which are out is answered?

      Let’s look at the various marital and sexual options open to human beings (my apologies if the below list offends anyone):
      1.Man + Woman (married/unmarried)
      2.Man + Man (married/unmarried)
      3.Woman + Woman (married/unmarried)
      4.Multiple partners/spouses (married/unmarried)
      5.Any of the above within same family
      6.Man or woman + child
      7.Man or woman + animal

      Now, Ms. Jacques and many others give thumbs up to options 1-3, but they frown upon and want options 4-7 disallowed.

      Why? Why “discriminate” against polygamists, man/boy-love relationships, or any “committed” and “consensual” relationships?

      This is what occurs when you don’t seek a standard/authority for marriage or provide one.

      • James Stanton

        Ian, there is a biblical precedent for polygamy, no matter how weak. There is a history of polygamy in the United States. Why are we playing gotcha games with homosexuals? They are after their self-interest. I don’t why these kinds of arguments keep being regurgitated in an exercise of logic games.

        You are ignoring the effects of societal consensus.

        • Ian Shaw

          Please, indulge me with a biblical precedent that allows/promotes polygamy (if that’s the case why has the consensus among American churches frown upon it?)
          So societal consensus is now the authority on what is right and good? What you are referring to is what Francis Schaeffer called “sociological arbitrary law”. They impose what a small number of people think is best for society at the given moment. That sir, is a recipe for destruction, not just on a biblical level but on a civilization level.

          • James Stanton

            You shouldn’t try to read more into comments. My point is that there’s some biblical history, mostly in the OT, for polygamy being permissible. The ground is far less shaky as compared to gay marriage which is why I think it’s faulty to engage in the polygamy gotcha game with a homosexual. My secondary point was that polygamy was practiced in the USA well before gay marriage was even a fraction of a threat which hurts your placement of it alongside gay marriage as an equal negative force in society.

            My point about societal consensus was not advocacy which should have been clear. The reality is we lack the political will and numbers to effectively combat this emerging consensus.

    • Curt Day

      Not at all. All things being equal, two consenting adults should be allowed to be married. But one reason incest has been prohibited is because of the possible health problems the children of such an arrangement produces. That is not all things being equal

      • Johnny Mason

        Curt, you are all over the map here. Let’s follow your logic. Based on it, people who have genetic defects or who can pass possible health problems onto children should not marry. I have two friends, who are married, who carry a genetic defect that can cause health problem in their children. Should they not have been allowed to marry?

        Second, children in SSM are intentionally missing a mother or a father. That is a grave harm that is done to a child and that is not all things being equal.

        • Curt Day

          Johnny Mason,
          My logic isn’t all over the map, it is your all-or-nothing thinking when applied to what I said that causes problems. That is why you conclude that people who can pass [any] health problems on to children should not marry. That’s not what I said. Certainly health problems of the children are a part of allowing people to marry inside their families. But added to that is the difference in the degree of probability that certain kinds of health problems from marriages with in families can occur.

          Children in single parent homes are missing a mother or a father. Children in families where the parents have a hostile relationship can suffer as well despite having a mother or father. So what should we legislate based on that?

          Yes, children in SSM are missing a mother or a father. But if the SSM is a loving relationship that provides loving environment for the children, what is your complaint?

      • Johnny Mason

        Plus, incest laws were not created because of the possibility of genetic defects, which is very low (it is higher than non-related spouses, but by only a couple of percentage points), but because of the destruction it creates with the family bond. It destroys the sanctity and security of the family.

        Also, incest laws existed for centuries, well before there was any concept of genetics and genetic defects.

        • Curt Day

          First, the lack of love and personal support are great dangers to the family bond. Financial hardships pose a great threat to the family bond. But please provide some documentation on your claim that the risk of birth defects is very low for children who have parents who are closely related. I’ll start. The link is below and the evidence recorded firmly contradicts your statement.

          • Johnny Mason


            “The study, published in the Journal of Genetic Counseling last year, determined that children of first cousins face about a 2 to 3 percent higher risk of birth defects than the population at large. To put it another way, first-cousin marriages entail roughly the same increased risk of abnormality that a woman undertakes when she gives birth at 41 rather than at 30. Banning cousin marriages makes about as much sense, critics argue, as trying to ban childbearing by older women.”

            So, the increase in birth defects in first cousins is minor and was probably the genesis for my statement above. There is a more significant increase for very close relations (i.e. brother-sister), if there are negative recessive genes in the gene pool. Your second link supports this claim:

            “Therefore, if there are harmful recessive alleles present in the population, the genes and characteristics still have the possibility of surfacing and negatively affecting a population, but it is very possible that the population will never see any harmful effects due to incest. In fact, some experts believe that in some cases inbreeding can be helpful to a population by constantly exposing harmful recessive genes to selection. ”

            So if you have a pretty strong gene-pool then inbreeding would actually be beneficial since you are preventing negative genes from entering the gene pool. This is what we see with animal breeding. The pure breds are kept that way by inbreeding, preventing negative or undesirable traits from entering into the gene pool.

            The reason we have incest laws has little, if anything to do with the affects they may have on children produced by their union, and much more to do with cultural norms, taboos, and concepts, like the sanctity of the family.

            • Curt Day

              Have you noticed that we’ve presented data on two different sample populations of people. So, if you want to make the incest analogy, note that after 1st cousins, incest is legal. With 1st cousins, the scientific data is not prohibitive. But there is no analogy with incest when those wanting to marry share at least one parent.

  • Paul Reed

    Just saying, the incest example also works against your definition of defining marriage as “between a man and a woman”. Incest doesn’t work so much against the “2 consenting adults” definition, because in incest there is almost always at least 1 party being abused.

    • Esther O'Reilly

      It’s sheer time-wasting equivocation to pretend that when any normal person says “Marriage is between a man and a woman,” they mean to leave the door open for fathers and daughters, or mothers and sons. The modifier “unrelated” is so obviously unnecessary for clarification purposes in a sane world (present world excluded), that at least until now, most of us haven’t thought it necessary to include it when we talk about marriage.

  • Ian Shaw

    Wait Denny, isn’t this what marriage equality supporters said wouldn’t or couldn’t happen as a result of their movement?

    Flippancy aside, I always remember a professor at my Christian alma mater that would say, never to use a poor/bad analogy to make your point-even if it works. I was hesitant to use the incest analogy when trying to make the point that “marriage equality” would eventually tread down that road. But with stories like the above happening, would that mean that it would no longer be a poor analogy to make the point that we are seeing the logical/societal conclusion to “marriage equality” now?

    This harkens back to something Jeremy Irons said a while back about “why couldn’t a son and father have a relationship based on this reasoning, as most incest laws dealt with the possibility of offspring”.

    • James Bradshaw

      That something is legal doesn’t necessarily imply it will become widespread. It’s legal to shack up with twenty partners, but outside of a few fundamentalist Mormons, no one’s doing it.

      It may be legal to have sex with your adult siblings, but no one’s doing it outside of a few folks in Mississippi.

      The legal arguments for gay marriage don’t work for incest. In the latter case, you’re not depriving a person of every potential mate, just a couple in particular.

      • Ian Shaw

        James, the legal argument for gay marriage was based on a violation of the 14th Amendment. That’s what was used in California when Prop 8 was overturned and that’s what was used in the Windsor case. No?

        You pretty much used a “no true Scotsman” in the quip about Mississippi.

        But compare “mate” to “couple”? Can you call a homosexual couple “mates” in the true sense of the word? What is to stop a 55 year old male from marrying his 28 year old son? If you follow the precedent set by the overturn of Prop 8 and Windsor, based on the 14th Amendment, you have no legal ground to keep incest (at least same gender) illegal.

        • James Bradshaw

          Ian, the Windsor case was built more on the 5th amendment than the 14th, saying that it was a matter of due process.

          Either way, those who engage in incest are not considered a class of people in the same manner gays are, so I’m not sure the 14th would even apply.

          Your argument still sounds silly to me. Incest between adults may be legal, but precious few engage in it.

          • Ryan Davidson

            I agree, James. Too many evangelicals assume that the legality of something will encourage people to engage in it. As you correctly note, it is perfectly legal for adult siblings to engage in consensual sex and it is perfectly legal for someone to have multiple spouses. Even so, few people seem to be engaging in these activities.

            The absence of civil recognition for these types of relationships has nothing to do with their moral propriety. Rather, it has to do with the fact that they are rare and idiosyncratic, despite their legality. In contrast, same-sex relationships are comparatively more common and tend to fit a script that allows them to be covered by existing civil marriage laws without any great administrative expenditure on the part of the state.

  • dr. james willingham

    Thank you, Ms. Jackson, for the information re: “marriage equality.” The travesty that view does to egalitarianism is rather outré. The same could be said for complementarianism. The fact that the Christian Faith, that is, biblical faith, gave to the first settlers in America the idea of liberty followed by checks and balances, provided for the development of a nation wherein the natural man could reside with freedom along side of the believers who had produced such congeries of contrarieties which turned out to be creative complementarities bespeak a future far better than present views of eschatology seem to permit.

  • James Harold Thomas

    “They can’t do that … IT’S JUST WRONG!” <– Dozens of commenters on the NYM article.

    It gave me a chuckle. Sort of like those "My Body, My Choice" pro-abortion folks who also want to ban cokes.

  • Curt Day

    We should note the real conflict in this debate about same-sex marriage. On the one hand, the history of protestantism shows that the Church uses the state to control the behavior of nonChristians. They initially relied on the state because they didn’t have the political structures and power that the Roman Church had.

    On the other hand, we now live in more participatory political structures. So the question is, how should Christians share society with nonChristians? If we use the past as a guide, we will attempt to share society as superiors and use our position to legislate against personal sin because to do otherwise is to be complicit in that sin. This was Luther’s argument for having both society and the government punish Jews for their unbelief. But to relate to society as its guardians or superiors is a contradiction to the reason for more participatory political structures. It also causes unnecessary stumbling blocks for those nonChristians who are rebelling against Christian control before they even hear the Gospel.

  • James Attebury

    Articles like this will become more and more common as those who practice “non-standard sexual activity” continue to grow. Stories like this show that the slippery slope is real and that there are real people demanding for the same “equality” that same-sex marriage advocates have. The same arguments and principles used to support gay marriage can be turned around to support any consensual sexual relationship and there is nothing those who support gay marriage can say to oppose them without undermining their own position of gay marriage.

  • Nathan Cesal

    I see a problem with applying a religious concept of marriage from Genesis & Jesus (who referenced Genesis) to secular society because we live in a society that is supposed to be unbound by religion. If your only argument against same-sex marriage comes from the Bible, then that is insufficient in our secular and diverse society.

    I see a problem with declaring a natural prohibition against same-sex relationships because those relationships happen naturally. Something that happens infrequently doesn’t imply that it is unnatural. The deeper we dig, the more we find natural variations in sexuality and gender expression.

    The things we prohibit should fit the basic ideas of decreasing ill effects and increasing good outcomes. Consent in marriage is part of that, but not the whole part. Reproduction is part of that, but not the whole part. Every study that I’ve seen which indicate that same-sex relationships have mostly negative outcomes have been really bad to the point of being a joke, including Regnerus.

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