This personal debate with myself started with a Young Turks clip on youtube a while back about Switzerland thinking about legalizing incest. Of course, when I first saw the title, my gut reaction was crazy fucking Swiss. Now I must admit I had the slightest biased against the Swiss government, simply with the issue I have on them portraying such a forward progressive attitude when in reality a lot of the government's policies are really backward, like their ridiculously xenophobic immigration policy and the fact that their women didn't have the right to vote until 1971. So initially, to me this seemed to fall into this category.
But then I watched the video. First of all, the law in no way condoned the rape of children or any such off-balance power dynamic. Pedophilia is outlawed in many different ways so that was not even the question. The question was whether or not someone should go to jail because of a fully consensual relationship between adult family members, like a brother and a sister.
Now I'm an only child, but still the idea of a brother and a sister going at it grosses me out. But still, does something that grosses me out have to be illegal? People that pee on each other gross me the fuck out too, but I'm not going to tell them that they should spend up to four years in jail because of it!
So why is it really illegal in the first place, in a country like the US?
There seem to be two prevailing arguments that people will automatically blurt out when confronted with such a seemingly odd and yet very simple question.
Excuse #1: It goes against people's Christian values
OK so apart from the obvious fact that Christians have absolutely no right to condemn incest considering that the Bible is riddled with it (see this video for a hilarious spoof on this), countries like the US and other European countries are supposed to have separation of church and state, so there should not be any laws made based on a religious belief or feeling. So in that case, this law would have no merit.
Excuse #2: The family members might have children, and those children would have a much higher chance of being born with malformations and genetic diseases.
Yes that is true. But here's my big problem with that argument: there is no other case in which it is illegal to have children based on such a risk. Let's go with an extreme example first. There is a drug on the market called Accutane, a very good drug for people with severe and disfiguring acne. The only problem is that, if taken while pregnant, this drug will lead to extremely severe birth defects, in which the child will be born with head, nervous system and heart defects, many times resulting in death. Of course female patients are warned of these enormous risks and told to use birth control while taking it. HOWEVER, if a woman gets pregnant, continues to take the drug and gives birth to the baby, causing it immense pain and suffering, there is no law to stop her. She will not spend one day in jail. So how can you say that there can be a law against a practice that might cause the birth of a child with congenital defects, when there is no law against a practice that will almost definitely produce a child with congenital defects? The argument simply does not hold water.
So the real question becomes this: legalize (or at least decriminalize) incest, or introduce more laws against practices that could lead to the birth of children with severe congential disorders?
At this point I have to point out the potential disaster of option 2. Yes incest can lead to birth defects, but you know what else can? Alcohol. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the number 1 cause of mental retardation in the States, and yet it is not illegal for a pregnant woman to have a drink. Well why stop there? Older women have a significantly higher chance of having a baby with Down's Syndrome, are we going to have an age limit on getting pregnant? It all gets a little too much for my taste. I say educate women on the risks involved, offer safe and legal abortion if it doesn't go to plan, and let adults make up their own adult minds. Pro choice all the way!
Well this was my logical train of thought. If you have any conflicting ones, or any other point to add or consider, do let me know!