When professor Peter Munz suggested earlier this year that incest be legalized, people throughout his native New Zealand were shocked. The notion of allowing consenting adults, who just happen to be related, to engage in sexual relationships proved appalling.
Of course, there have traditionally been two formative arguments against the legalization of incest. The first, and by far more relied upon, is that insofar as sexual activity is inherently procreative, the potential for genetic birth defects exists at too great a level for comfort when persons deriving from the same gene pool are the parents. The second argument, and certainly the lesser employed, is that incest is simply a violation of morality and ergo unacceptable in civilized society.
But now that the United States Supreme Court has declined to review the Massachusetts high courts’ controversial 4-3 ruling that opened the door for gay marriages in the New England state, there may be hope at last for those just dying to go to bed with a relative.
After all, the clear message behind the gay marriage movement is that the legislation of morality is thoroughly unacceptable. This claim, when cross-applied to the governance of incest, leaves only the procreative objection standing. But since homosexual couples are incapable of natural procreation, it would seem that there is no longer a decent rationale for the barring of marriage between gay, incestuous couples.
This of course sounds morally reprehensible on nearly every level and surely is. In fact, it is far more reprehensible than the notion of gay marriage, something accepted by a large number of Americans, but not by the crucial majority. Ergo, though one concept may be horrifically more perturbing than the other, both enjoy minority support in a democracy governed by the intellectual majority.
Further complicating matters, the framework for much of the gay marriage movement’s rhetoric has been a partial employment of the 14th amendment, essentially claiming that to only allow marriage on sexually selective grounds is a wanton violation of equal rights. And supporters are correct in noting that the famed post-slavery amendment surely should extend to homosexuals in nearly every regard — it would seem patently wrong to allow discrimination against gays in any context except for a marital one.
Of course, this poses yet another problem: if equal rights are to be extended to marriage, and we realize that there are no logical grounds for the banning of gay incestuous marriage, then isn’t it also a violation of equal rights to deny heterosexual incestuous couples marriage licenses? After all, such would be the ultimate manifestation of reverse-discrimination.
But once we consider heterosexual gay marriage, we return to the potentially procreative harms that have led incest laws for time and memoriam.
Or do we?
Since the Supreme Court — the same body that is now refusing to rectify the Massachusetts fiasco — ruled in Roe v. Wade that there is essentially no protection for a fetus in the first stages of pregnancy, how can the law justify protecting the interests of incestuous sperm? Such would be the sort of recognition of a potential-life that the pro-choice movement fears so deeply (a movement, ironically, largely ideologically overlapped with the pro-gay marriage movement).
The answer to all of these supremely ironic contradictions is the sort of compromise that is all too often lacking on Capitol Hill these days.
Homosexuals deserve equal rights. There is not a valid reason to deny them the right to visit partners in the hospital, enjoy tax benefits (or penalties, for that matter) and receive treatment equal to that granted to heterosexual couples.
But one chief difference will remain, and it is not that of morality, but rather the simple dilemma of an inherent incapability to naturally procreate. And insofar as marriage was established as a largely — albeit not exclusively — procreative tradition, the solution for homosexual couples must lie somewhere outside the flowery formalities of marriage but inside the necessary equality of civil unions.
And while gay marriage activists may cry that civil unions do not confer all the rights of traditional marriage, such is merely an argument to reform civil unions, not to commence issuing marriage licenses.
Perhaps most importantly, though, the homosexual rights movement must realize that such civil unions are not a legal proclamation declaring that morality cannot be legislated, but much the opposite: a legal proclamation declaring that it would be immoral to not try to reach the most compatible of reasonable compromises.
After all, the day we declare that morality cannot be legislated, we open the door for brothers and sisters to legally wed.
Mac VerStandig ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in rhetoric.