Old Incest Debate Gets New Blood

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby may have a shit storm on his hands. The outspoken journo has penned a column entitled “Lawful Incest May Be On Its Way,” in which Jacoby argues that Lawrence v. Texas – the groundbreaking case that people have the right to consensual sex, even sex of the anal variety – may have laid the groundwork for broader sex laws.

Jacoby – who looks like the poster boy for incest – writes:

In Lawrence, it is worth remembering, the Supreme Court didn’t just invalidate all state laws making homosexual sodomy a crime. It also overruled its own decision just 17 years earlier (Bowers v. Hardwick, 1986) upholding such laws. If the court meant what it said in Lawrence — that states are barred from “making . . . private sexual conduct a crime” — it will not take that long for laws criminalizing incest to go by the board as well. Impossible? That’s what they used to say about normalizing homosexuality and legalizing same-sex marriage.

Jacoby’s argument’s nothing new.

Conservatives have been equating gay sex with incest for years. Former Senator Rick Santorum – whom Jacoby cites earlier in this article – once said,

If the Supreme Court says you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.

Santorum got reamed for these comments, but it seems to us that he may be right. And, what’s more, legal incest may be right, as well.

Jacoby brings up the case of a man named Paul Lowe. Lowe had a sexual relationship with his 22-year old stepdaughter and a court sent him to jail for incest.

Lowe has appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court, making Lawrence the basis of his argument. In Lawrence, the court had ruled that people “are entitled to respect for their private lives” and that under the 14th Amendment, “the state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.” If that was true for the adult homosexual behavior in Lawrence, why not for the adult incestuous behavior in the Ohio case?

It shouldn’t be. The argument against incest hinges on the increased risk of genetic maladies. As Jacoby points out, however, couples predisposed to gene-based diseases are not restricted from mating. Thus, this judicial argument barring incest falls flat. Yet, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected Lowe’s appeal, thus maintaining the anti-incest laws. Time‘s Michael Lindenberger reports:

The Ohio Supreme Court rejected the plantiffs’ argument that Lawrence created a new fundamental privacy right that made laws restricting consensual, private sex among adults unconstitutional. Instead, prosecutors successfully argued that Lawrence said only that anti-sodomy laws bore no rational relationship to a legitimate state interest – the lowest of Constitutional barriers. Agreeing, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that state interests in preventing incest – even among adults or step-relations – were perfectly legitimate.

This legitimacy, however, rests less on a state interest and more on morals. For centuries, man has fought against familial love: the last taboo. The mass revulsion over incest, as Jacoby points out, comes more from its “ick” factor than any clear and present danger. It seems to us that the legal system’s sexual double standard compromises its legitimacy. We may not personally approve of incest, but it seems to us that if a brother and sister or mother and son or grandmother and granddaughter want to get it on, they should be allowed. Yes, it’s may be a bit distasteful to much of the population, but so is anal sex.

A lot of conservatives will argue that if we make incest legal, we’ll continue to fall down the proverbial “slippery slope” until men are fucking horses out in the open. This, of course, isn’t true. The laws apply to consensual sex. Since animals can’t consent, such sex acts should remain illegal. If, by some miracle, an animal learns English and can say, “Let’s have a go” – well, that would be a different story. Of course, that’s as unbelievable as the fact that Jacoby and his ilk feel the need to stick their noses into other people’s sex lives.

Lawful incest may be on its way [Boston Globe]
Should Incest Be Legal? [Time]