Warning: this story starts with a "mother-son couple"

Monica Mares (35) and Caleb Peterson (19) of New Mexico were arrested back in February following an altercation with their neighbors. They wound up spending a brief time in jail but were later released on $5,000 bail. The interesting part of this case, however, is that the charges had nothing to do with the altercation with the neighbors. Monica and Caleb were arrested for dating and being in a sexual relationship. That probably sounds odd until you realize that Monica is Caleb’s mother.

I’ll just give you a moment to let that sink in. (Jezebel)

Monica Mares gave up her son Caleb Peterson when she was 16 years old. The two reconnected on Facebook when he was 19, and met in person around last Christmas. Soon he was living with her. Not long after that, they say, they became lovers.

Genetic Sexual Attraction is a term that has become more commonly used than incest in those cases where two people who are related, but don’t grow up together, meet and fall in love (or lust). In an interview with The Daily Mail, Mares says that if she’d raised her son, they “probably” would never have had a sexual relationship, but she now considers him the love of her life.

Mares has two other children, nine and 12, who apparently don’t have a problem with her relationship with Peterson. The law in their home state of New Mexico does, however.

As provocative (and, yes… icky) as this story sounds, there are two very different questions to tackle here. One deals with the obviously disturbing nature of their relationship, but the other centers on the fact that they’ve been charged with fourth degree felony incest. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the first portion of this equation. There are complicating factors here of course, primarily the fact that the son grew up all the way through adulthood without knowing his mother so neither of them had the built in aversion which we’d expect from such a pairing. I’m not a psychiatrist but I assume there’s something to that situation which would suppress some of the normal defenses our species should have against such a genetically risky relationship.

More to the point here is whether or not the government should have these incest laws on the books or be enforcing them where they exist. Should Monica and Caleb be allowed to marry? Hang on to your hats, folks, but I’ve been wrestling with these questions for quite a while now and I think I have to side with Ms. Mares. Before you click the back button and swear to never touch one of my bylines again, I’d ask that you give me a moment here to at least defend myself.

All through the gay marriage debate I have sided with social conservatives who claim the right to not be involved with or participate in a same sex wedding if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. (Primarily pastors, photographers, bakers, and other service providers.) But at the same time, as I’ve written here at length, I strongly believe that the small government conservative position on marriage is that it should be beyond the power of the government at any level to require a permission slip (license) from or charge a tax (fee) to two consenting adults to engage in a private ceremony where they dedicate their lives to each other. That applies to gay and straight couples alike.

But having reached that conclusion, I was forced to ask myself if there was any limit to keeping the hands of the government out of the mix. Clearly the government has an interest to protect those incapable of granting meaningful, informed consent, so minimum age laws and protection for those with mental disabilities is proper. But what of other couples such as the one in this story? Is the risk of genetic disorders in offspring a sufficient reason to have such laws? All states allow relatives at some degree to marry, and a few still allow it among first cousins. The risk of genetic disaster for the children is greatly reduced in 1st cousins as compared to siblings or parents and their children, but it still exists. Where do you draw the line?

I believe the government has a responsibility to provide educational material to its citizens warning them of such dangers, but in the end the responsibility for making your married life and family work out falls on you. With that in mind, as much as it may be an unpopular view, I can’t in good conscience agree that New Mexico should send Monica and Caleb to jail or be allowed to keep them apart.

Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that this story is just creepy.