A brother and sister from Germany who had an incestuous relationship, arguing they had the right to a family life, have lost their European court case.Of course, I applaud the decision of the ECHR, but I take a rather different view on the justification of it.
Patrick Stuebing and Susan Karolewski had four children together, two of whom are described as disabled.
The European Court of Human Rights said Germany was entitled to ban incest.
Stuebing, who was convicted of incest and spent three years in prison, did not meet his natural sister until he tracked down his family as an adult.
He had been adopted as a child and only made contact with his natural relatives in his 20s.
The siblings grew close after their mother died.
Three of their four children are now looked after in care.
The couple insist that their love is no different to any other.
Regulation of marriage is central to the moral and legal codes of almost all human societies. Different societies limit marriage in diverse ways:
- Age (young people are generally disallowed from marrying, and early marriage has become legally and socially more difficult in much of the world)
- Sex (people of opposing sex may marry, although recently some societies have allowed same-sex marriage)
- Number (some societies demand exclusivity, while others allow for husbands to marry multiple wives, or more commonly for women to take multiple husbands)
- Relation (marriage between close relatives are often prohibited, (almost) universally for parent-offspring or sibling marriage; on the other hand cousin or uncle-niece marriage is prohibited in some societies, or encouraged in others)
- Race (there were formerly legal prohibitions of inter-racial marriage, and there are societies in which such marriages are often frowned upon still)
- Religion (some belief systems do not require that partners be of the same religion, while others do so)
- Social status (marriage across class or caste lines was formerly prohibited either legally or socially, and is still often uncommon)
- Former marriage status (divorce and re-marriage sometimes prohibited, provisions for widowhood, etc.)
If the matter is that of constitutional or other "rights", then the state oversteps its role in preventing two consenting persons from entering into the institution of marriage. Those who hold to this view, however, often promote the "right" to marriage of their own particular interest group (mostly of the homosexual community), but downplay similar claims to marriage of other groups (e.g., prohibition against polygamy, incest, young marriage, etc.)
There is a different line of thought, which frames the question of marriage in utilitarian terms. Marriage is seen as promoting child-rearing, family stability, engendering close social ties, and promoting the well-being and happiness of individuals. Again, those who hold to this view propose that their particular form of marriage is useful, while opposing certain forms of marriage for its adverse effects (e.g., the costs associated with invalids born of incestuous marriages, or increased expenditure when economic benefits are extended to new forms of marriage).
When the moral compass of a society atrophies, then its most fundamental institutions become the playing ground of lawyers and economists. Of course, this is a perfectly valid point of view -if one thinks that lawyers and economists, rather than ethicists and priests- make the better judges of what is to be allowed.
Proponents of the modern, secular, and democratic way of doing things will argue that it is an improvement for the rules to be made in the context of Constitutional Law, Democratic Choice, and Economic Expediency.
But, we must not forget that their chosen framework of accepted behavior is not as sure-footed as they may think, because what else is Democracy than the idea that the many are right over the few? What else is adherence to a Constitution than the faith in the idea that what men voted for generations ago should guide the behavior of the living? And, what else is Economics, other than the idea that human prosperity revolves around the maximization of some economic quantity?
To conclude: questions such as "should incestuous marriage be allowed?" force us all to think about who decides the "should."