Leave it to Europe to be out ahead of the pack when it comes to political and social reform. There’s no telling if they’ve been paying attention to recent US Supreme Court decisions regarding when and if the government can hinder the possibility of getting married, but the Germans are surely striking out into some bold new territory with this one. The German national Ethics Council has taken a vote and is suggesting that it should be legal for brothers and sisters to marry. (From Metro UK)

Incest could be made legal in Germany following a meeting of the national Ethics Council.

They have called for the legalisation of incest after looking into the case of a brother and sister who had four children together.

Despite the dangers of children of incestual relationships being born with abnormalities, the committee claim this risk is not high enough to warrant its criminalisation.

The Council studied the case of Patrick Stuebing, who was adopted shortly after birth, but in his twenties met his biological sister and wound up being in a relationship with her. The siblings had four children and Stuebing wound up doing three years in prison for it.

As the Telegraph notes in additional interviews, the German Ethics Council has determined that the legislature is no place for deciding on taboos, and in fact, incest may be a “fundamental right.”

“Criminal law is not the appropriate means to preserve a social taboo,” the German Ethics Council said in a statement. “The fundamental right of adult siblings to sexual self-determination is to be weighed more heavily than the abstract idea of protection of the family.”

Should they have kept the couple apart? One deciding detail might be the fact that two of the Stuebing children are “disabled” though the paper doesn’t offer specifics as to how. It’s also worth noting that Angela Merkel’s ruling party spokesperson is indicating that they’re really not in favor of changing the rules at this time.

How would that play out in the United States? As we’ve previously discussed here, John Roberts noted the lack viable restrictions on many sorts of marriage in his dissent on the gay marriage case. Having torn down one barrier, others begin to look rather pale by comparison. And it’s not as if incest is unknown in American marriages, depending on how far you stretch the definition. Incest laws don’t just apply to brothers and sisters, but to parents and children or some cousins as well. But we don’t rule all of them out even today. Only half of the states ban first cousin marriage altogether, and some of the others allow it but have gotten away with placing certain restrictions on the practice. (From the National Conference of State Legislatures)

First cousin marriage is allowed in these states under the following circumstances:

Arizona- if both are 65 or older, or one is unable to reproduce.
Illinois- if both are 50 or older, or one is unable to reproduce.
Indiana- if both are at least 65.
Maine- if couple obtains a physician’s certificate of genetic counseling.
Utah- if both are 65 or older, or if both are 55 or older and one is unable to reproduce.
Wisconsin- if the woman is 55 or older, or one is unable to reproduce.

Interestingly, North Carolina allows free for all first cousin marriage, but prohibits double cousin marriage. Yes… I had to go look that one up too. A standard set of first cousins each have one parent who are siblings. (e.g. his mom is the sister of her father or mother.) Double first cousins are cases where his mother is her mother’s sister and his father is her father’s brother… or any other combination you choose.) The genetics experiment going on in that one is daunting, and not that far removed from being siblings themselves.

So if we allow for these marriages already and we now have the recent gay marriage ruling about the limits in government power to carve out the roles for matrimony, where does the court find an argument against brothers and sisters who want to wed? I suppose they have to rely on the science for this one because all the studies I’ve been able to find indicate that the difference between cousin and sibling offspring is huge. The children of first cousins may have less than a 4% increase in the risk of birth defects, but for brothers and sisters that rate skyrockets to more than 40%, or roughly half. (Recall the case of the Stuebing couple above… they seem to be textbook.)

So if we accept that the government has a vested interest in protecting the unborn from the ignorance of their parents, then you can ban sibling marriage. But would you have to carve out exceptions for infertile couples as we’ve done for cousins? And what of the German argument that even if you don’t want them marrying we shouldn’t be putting people in jail over “a taboo” in the 21st century?

We’ve entered into a brave new world. And things are only going to get stranger from here on out.