Jeremy Irons on gay marriage: “Could a father not marry his son?”

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 Rhode Island repealed its criminal incest statute in 1989, Ohio’s criminal statute targets only parental figures, and New Jersey does not punish acts committed when both parties are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.


  • Jim Hearst

    I can imagine estate planning becoming one of the arguments for polygamous or incestuous marriage in the near future.

  • steve hays

    For the interviewer to say it’s presently illegal is hardly adequate, for activists are pushing to change laws.

  • andrea ostrov letania

    The bigger question is what should incest marriage or same family marriage be banned IF ‘gay marriage’ is allowed? Isn’t that ‘incestophobic’? If any two consenting adults should have the right to marry, why not allow family members to do the same? If we should honor ‘gay marriage’ even if we find ‘gay sex’ to be disgusting, why shouldn’t the same be allowed for ‘incest marriage’? Also, banning incest marriage doesn’t prevent inbreeding. After all, even without marrying, members of the same family can legally have sex and have kids–and such things do happen from time to time. The only way to reduce the chance of inbreeding would be to criminalize incestuous sex.
    Also, even though inbreeding increases the chance of birth defect problems, the majority of inbred children are normal. Also, as long as egalitarians who abhor Nazi eugenics, why should we regard people with genetic disorders as less human or less worthy to exist as normal human being? Isn’t that like saying gay people have less right to live than normal people since they are… well, abnormal?

    The bigger problem with ‘same sex marriage’ is it might lead to convenient ‘marriage of friendship’. Suppose there are two straight girls. They are merely friends and feel no sexual thing for one another. But they wanna share each other’s benefits, and so they enter into ‘friendship marriage’, a form of ‘same sex marriage’ but without the sexual element–but then, a man and a woman who don’t intend to have sex can also get married.
    Initially, many straight friends won’t do this for fear of ostracism, but as ‘same sex marriage’ becomes more accepted, a whole bunch of straight girls and straight guys might enter into same-sex-friend-marriage-of-convenience to share each other’s benefits.

    Btw, what about a bisexual who is equally in love with a man and a woman? Shouldn’t he or she have the right to marry both? Or what about three gay guys who are equally in love with one another? If marriage only allows two to marry, won’t the third guy be and feel left out? Isn’t that triophobic?

    • Lauren Bertrand


      Incidentally your second paragraph on “marriage of friendship” was a topic brought up recently on Christian Post, in reference to the Georgia GOP Chairwoman: http://global.christianpost.com/news/ga-gop-chairwoman-on-same-sex-marriage-its-all-about-a-free-ride-93057/

      After reading the article, even the most conservative of Evangelicals had to argue that the Chairwoman was grasping at straws. After all, thousands upon thousands of opposite-sex “couples” do exactly this right now, fabricating marriages to bypass certain laws. Green card marriages take place on a daily basis. There’s nothing to indicate that this isn’t already happening routinely through domestic partner benefits (available to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples), so SSM would not really open new doors there, unless it were to replace domestic partnerships by making them null and void.

  • Lauren Bertrand

    Steve Hays, I’d love to see a reference for one of those activist groups that is trying to legalize incest. By no means am I trying to provoke you; I am honestly curious about this, because I DO feel it is likely to be placed on the table by some marginal advocacy group. The question then lingers as to how long it will remain marginal.

    Biblical arguments against incest are difficult to reconcile–all the more if you apply a literalist hermeneutic. After all, the proliferation of humankind from Adam and Eve and their progeny would, ipso facto, depend upon incest.

    That said, it is particularly ironic that Jeremy Irons is taking such a conservative stance on this topic, considering he has starred in some particularly lurid and sexually explicit movies over the years. Damage? M. Butterfly? Lolita?

    • steve hays

      i) Try Switzerland.

      Likewise, incest is common in polygamist communities.

      ii) Anyway, you’re missing the point. The fact that there is presently a law against a certain kind of “marriage” (e.g. incestuous marriage) is hardly an adequate refutation of Jeremy Irons’ comparison, since homosexuals are lobbying to change preexisting laws.

      iii) BTW, there are different types of incest, viz. parental, sibling, “consensual adult.” Your reference to Genesis fails to draw that distinction. There is also a difference between incest and marriage, just as there’s a difference between fornication and marriage.

  • Bill Hickman

    It seems possible, but it would also be pretty impractical. First, each party would be legally stuck with the other – e.g. a son couldn’t marry his father and also marry the woman he loves because he’d already be married to his father. It would prevent either party from sharing other important legal rights with their actual significant others and children.

    The father would also have to be willing to exclude any other children he has from the arrangement. Most states have strong protections against reducing a spouse’s inheritance by writing them out of a will.

    You’d also have to be pretty rich for this to be appealing at all – the estate tax savings wouldn’t be worth the trouble for most people.

  • Ian Shaw

    Lauren-but if you understand the literal Biblical narrative of the proliferation of humankind, you would understand that at that point in time, Adam and Eve were perfect (or slightly sub-perfet human beings, disease had perhaps just microscopicly begun and there were no adverse health risks to procreating that way (at the time).

    • Lauren Bertrand

      Oh, so that’s the reason it’s justified. Even after the “fall”, they’re still perfect. I guess it’s hard to determine if they are necessarily related to one another, Eve coming from Adam’s rib and all. But their progeny most certainly were. And, to this day, the State’s interest in prohibiting incest (which I would assert is completely justifiable) is the considerably likelihood of genetic abnormalities that arise–not due to transmission of disease.

      Steve Hays–
      Thank you for the Switzerland reference. It appears that it was under consideration about 2 or 3 years ago, based on the dates of all the news articles. It also does not appear to have passed, since I see nothing later than spring 2011 on the “incest bill”, and something that radical would undoubtedly make national news.

      And Steve, in regards to your third point, are you implying–Genesis notwithstanding–that the “type” of incest matters when it comes to considerations of its legality? I merely said the arguments are difficult to reconcile, but are you suggesting that if we parse incest further it is possible to reconcile the current overwhelmingly negative social views of incest with its incidence in the Bible?

      • steve hays

        “Incest” is an umbrella term. When people talk about incestuous marriages, at least some of them are probably using that term as shorthand for something more specific, like parental incest.

        I’m discussing morality rather than legality, although the two can be linked.

        “Incest” can be purely technical. For instance, you could have a blended family with two sets of kids from different marriages. Legally they are siblings, yet they are really in-laws rather than blood relatives.

        Likewise, different cultures have different prohibited degrees of affinity. In some cultures, marriage between cousins is incestuous whereas that’s morally licit in other cultures. Some cultures favor endogamy.

        In analogy with homosexual marriage, I think the type of incest in view would be parental incest, whether parent/underage child or parent/grown child.

  • Ian Shaw

    Bill, but if you follow the proponents of SSM, they gave no definition (neither to the appeals court in CA nor the SCOTUS) of what marriage should be. The entire argument is that keeping their “marriage” unlawful is a violation of the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment. If all you are arguing is equal protection for whatever floats your boat, and not give a standard for marriage, legally, there can’t be an argument that says your marriage is limited to 1 and only 1 spouse.

    And to Steve, sodomy laws were once on the books. Many people thought they would never be struck down (see State of Texas and SCOTUS 2003). Something once illegal and completely socially unacceptable, now legal. What’s to say incest laws couldn’t be struck down based on the equal protection clause? Lws change all the time because of popular opinion and finding some nincompoopery excuse (14th Amendment) to strike it down to appease the flavor of the month issue.

  • Carter Wilson

    I think that there is a real distinction that can be drawn between same sex marriage and polygamy and incest. the latter two are regulable on public policy grounds because of the assumed greater likelihood that there is an improper power dynamic at work between the parties – cults or other forms of manipulation with polygamy and child abuse and improper influence with incest.

    • steve hays

      The same “improper power dynamic” is also present in homosexual marriage inasmuch as the alleged right of homosexuals to enter into matrimony carries with it the corollary right to adopt children. We’ve seen how the power dynamic plays out when homosexuals are given power over children in the Catholic church and Boy Scouts. So your argument backfires.

      • Carter Wilson

        I am afraid that I do not understand the argument. There is nothing intrinsically improper about homosexuals adopting children as compared to a situation where a cult leader coerces multiple women into marrying one man or a father-daughter marriage where there would be a strong presumption of child abuse. That gay people have abused children is no more proof that they are unfit to care for children than it would be to cite to examples of heterosexual people abusing children as evidence that heterosexuals are unfit to have kids. I don’t think that you could seriously argue that the vast majority of gay people are child abusers so as to call the relationship into question.

        • steve hays

          Of course there’s something intrinsically improper about sexual perverts adopting children.

          And just look at the very high correlation between the gender of the abuser and the gender of the victim in the priestly abuse scandal to see a pattern. It isn’t hard to discern, unless you turn a blind eye to the pattern because you care more about radical chic ideology than the welfare of defenseless children. You’re an enabler.

        • Ken Temple

          “as compared” is the problem with your statement. No one argues that cult leaders or bad heterosexual marriages with violence is good; it it not an either or; two wrongs don’t make a right. Ideally, all children should have mother and father. But homosexuals should have never even allowed to adopt in the first place. It is by nature wrong and damaging to the child, psychologically and spiritually, even if the “gay” couple is nice and never yells, etc. If even they are nice and never do any physical abuse, it is still wrong, ontologically.

  • bridget

    How completely naive of the interviewer (in response to Jeremy’s concern about the possibility of incestuous marriages happening in the future) responding, “Because there are laws against it put in place, not just because of procreation but there are ‘moral approbations.'” HELLO? Didn’t there used to be moral approbations against two men and two women marrying each other too? And Jeremy’s response to the interviewer saying he doesn’t think it could happen is the response we’ll hear in the future from pro-incest and pro-polygamist people…”Really?!! Why?!!”

  • Bill Hickman

    Also, why can’t fathers and daughters already pull this stunt in New Jersey? Is there any evidence they’re using heterosexual marriage to avoid the estate tax? If not, then why is this an argument against civil marriage for gays and lesbians?

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