Why Might It Make Sense To Bar Stepparent-Adult-Stepchild Incest?

The post below, and the discussion in the comments, leads me to ask: Precisely why might it make sense to outlaw sex between stepparents and adult stepchildren? I don't want to ask whether such a ban should be constitutional, or whether criminal penalties are ultimately a good idea. (One might conclude, for instance, that outlawing such sex may make sense, but that on balance it makes more sense not to have the legal system try to investigate and criminally punish such things.)

In the course of describing the rational basis for the law, the court gives what might be an answer to my question:

Ohio has a tradition of acknowledging the "importance of maintaining the family unit." A sexual relationship between a parent and child or a stepparent and stepchild is especially destructive to the family unit. R.C. 2907.03(A)(5) was designed to protect the family unit by criminalizing incest in Ohio. Stepchildren and adopted children have been included as possible victims of the crime of incest because society is concerned with the integrity of the family, including step and adoptive relationships as well as blood relationships, and sexual activity is equally disruptive, whatever the makeup of the family. As the "traditional family unit has become less and less traditional, * * * the legislature wisely recognized that the parental role can be assumed by persons other than biological parents, and that sexual conduct by someone assuming that role can be just as damaging to a child." This reasoning applies not only to minor children, but to adult children as well. Moreover, parents do not cease being parents -- whether natural parents, stepparents, or adoptive parents -- when their minor child reaches the age of majority.

Accordingly, as applied in this case, R.C. 2907.03(A)(5) bears a rational relationship to the legitimate state interest in protecting the family, because it reasonably advances its goal of protection of the family unit from the destructive influence of sexual relationships between parents or stepparents and their children or stepchildren. If Lowe divorced his wife and no longer was a stepparent to his wife's daughter, the stepparent-stepchild relationship would be dissolved. The statute would no longer apply in that case.

But this strikes me as pretty abstract -- how exactly is the "family unit" threatened, and what exactly does "the integrity of the family" mean? Even if you're confident that there's some harm here, it helps to know concretely what the harm is, since that will help us understand what boundaries the incest rule should have.

For instance, is the threat simply the threat of dissolution of the stepfather's and mother's marriage? If so, should the law apply when the mother is dead (in which case I take it the stepfather would still be the stepfather) -- and why should the law apply even when the mother is alive, given that other forms of adultery are no longer criminally punished?

Is it the threat of damage to the stepfather's/stepdaughter's familial relationship, in the event that the stepfather/stepdaughter break up their romantic relationship? If so, why shouldn't the law apply even if the father divorces the mother? (It may be that it literally doesn't apply, given its text, depending on how you read "stepparent," but maybe that just means it should be amended.)

Is it the threat of damage to the mother/daughter relationship? If so, then again why shouldn't the law apply even if the father divorces the mother to sleep with the daughter?

Here's my very tentative thinking on the matter. First, I don't think that the "abuse of authority" argument raised by some commenters is terribly powerful here, if the argument presupposes that the stepfather is using his authority or even his father figure status coercively. Parents, including stepparents who have raised the child for many years, have notoriously little ability to control their adult children; at most, they'll know which psychological buttons to push, but that doesn't seem to help that much. Perhaps in unusual cases stepparents would have some sort of psychological power over their adult children, and maybe cases of stepparent-stepchild incest disproportionately involve those unusual cases. But I'm not sure why we should assume this, and why we should think such psychological power is that much greater than in many other situations where the relationship isn't criminalized. (Even boss-subordinate relationships, for instance, are almost never criminal, and aren't even by themselves cause for civil liability, though they may carry the risk of civil liability if the jury finds some threat of employment retaliation underlying the relationship.)

Second, I don't think that the concern can just be that the stepfather is breaking up his marriage with the mother (that's no different from normal adultery, which, while bad, is generally not treated as a crime) or even jeopardizing the mother's relationship with the daughter (though I might be mistaken on that point, since stepparent-stepchild incest is unusually likely to jeopardize the parent-child relationship).

Third, it seems to me that the problem with a stepparent-stepchild sexual relationship is not that it jeopardizes the relationship between this stepparent and this stepchild. That's a risk that this stepparent and stepchild can be expected to assess for themselves.

Rather, it seems to me that the most sensible argument for banning stepparent-stepchild sexual relationships -- and perhaps other familiar sexual relationships -- is to diminish (as much as possible) the risk that normalization of sexual attraction in stepparent/adult-stepchild relationships will color others' stepparent-stepchild relationships, including ones that involve minor stepchildren.

When a stepfather looks fondly at his stepdaughter, we want her thinking "he loves me [as a daughter] and thinks I'm beautiful," rather than "he lusts after me." When a mother looks at her husband's looking fondly at his stepdaughter, we want her thinking "he loves her [as a daughter], which is what I want," rather than "he lusts after her." When the stepfather is thinking about his stepdaughter, we want him to banish lustful thoughts as much as possible, rather than thinking about how he might arrange things so that he can sleep with her -- even if he waits until she's 18.

And this is an especially compelling problem for stepfather/stepchild relationships because, as best I can tell, there really is nothing biologically unnatural about them; it's naturally for adult males to be sexually attracted to young postpubescent females with whom they're not genetically related. (Perhaps some innate psychological taboos may undermine that when the adult male has raised the girl from early childhood, but many stepparent/stepchild relationships start when the stepchild is no longer a very young child.) There is thus special social need to desexualize these relationships as much as possible. Of course, we don't want incest to be so unthinkable that it becomes unreportable if it happens nonconsensually, but we do want it to be thought of as little as possible unless there's really solid evidence of its being imminent.

If I'm right, then the behavior control here is a means of affecting other people's understanding and expectation of how people behave and think (as well as how they should behave). I should say this is not necessarily a pretty story: Rather than relying on not-very-far-from-libertarian concerns about coercion (even of adults) or violation of promises (such as the marriage vow), this argument for not allowing stepparent/adult-stepchild incest is a form of thought control. Yet it seems to me to respond to a more serious problem than the other arguments, because it suggests that control of this incest is needed not just to protect a few adults from emotionally damaging decisions, but to protect millions of adults and children from the harm that may stem when their stepparent-stepchild relationships become perceived as potentially sexual even when they themselves firmly resolve not to allow the relationships to actually become sexual.

Moreover, if this story is right, then this suggests that the incest ban should apply even if the stepfather and stepmother divorce, and even if the stepfather is a widower. Any stepparent/stepchild sexual relationships risk normalizing such relationships and thus potentially sexualizing people's attitudes towards such relationships more broadly. And it also suggests that adult stepsibling sexual relationships may likewise be harmful in a way similar to what I describe (though again I should note that this doesn't necessarily mean they should be criminalized).

I may well be wrong on all this. This isn't my core area of expertise, I haven't thought about it a great deal, and thankfully I don't even have personal experience with it (lacking either stepparents or stepchildren). But I thought I'd mention this, and see what others have to say.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Bashman on the Limits of Lawrence
  2. Why Might It Make Sense To Bar Stepparent-Adult-Stepchild Incest?
  3. The Limits of Lawrence -- Consensual Adult Incest:
elChato (mail):
The vast majority of step-parent/stepchild sex will be stepfather/stepdaughter. The law has the effect of opening up the sexual, reproductive, and marriage market to young men. It wouldn't be good to have a bunch of frustrated young guys who couldn't get to local young women- they would perhaps leave for somewhere else to find women. This is basically the justification Posner offered for anti-bigamy laws, and it makes sense to me here.

Also, given the disgust with which most people would view this kind of relationship, we can expect that mostly people of low socioeconomic status would engage in it, which means that (a) any children generated would likely need public support or otherwise have poor parenting and awkward adjustment, and (b) the relationships would not be very stable owing to ostracism/shame of the participants, which would not be good for the kids.

I think Eugene has a great point that they are attempting to channel sexual energy toward more stable "traditional" relationships, as they are more likely to produce children the parents will remain together to raise.
3.2.2007 7:12pm
Anonymous Poster (mail):
This law would also seem to prohibit the relations of two adult stepchildren whose parents marry after both have reached adulthood. If that is the case, the two people are unrelated and there is no power differential to argue. Are people comfortable banning the adult children who are made stepbrother and stepsister without their own consent, from any relations?
3.2.2007 7:32pm
Following that analysis, should we also ban relationship between any two people who used to have the sort of relationship where we wouldn't want the intrusion of the spectre of possible lust?

The argument would logically also include banning consensual adult sex between people such as: teacher-former student, religious leader-former confirmation student, pediatrician-former patient.

You could even go so far under this argument as to ban sex with anyone post-divorce; it would color how the spouse views all his or her spouse's friends. We want them to think "I'm glad my spouse feels free to have friends of the opposite sex" not "he lusts after her".
3.2.2007 7:36pm
fred (mail):
Volokh has analyzed this very nicely. But I think he starts from the wrong point.

I assume his main concern in questioning this stepfather-stepdaughter relationship is to maximize each individual's personal freedom. He therefore looks harshly on any perceived limit on that freedom. If any such limit arises, it must be justified, and the level of justification must rise to a pretty high level.

But is maximizing each person's individual freedom necessarily the organizing principle that healthy societies can be built around? We certainly desire a great deal of personal freedom, but to make that the core value of the society skews the game, in my view.

Societies exist because they hang together, because they have similar values. Individualism can go too far, and I think that his unspoken assumption is that individualism is the highest (or one of the highest) values that society should seek. To inject what sounds like radical individualism into every societal judgment destablizes the society. If every person is essentially out for himself in a mad effort to maximize his or her personal freedom, we descend a bit from a civilized people towards a state of nature, where each person is jealously seeking to satisfy themselves by impinging on others to the greatest degree they can,(without actually causing overt stress or violence to break out) in order to satisfy themselves.

So while we should always attempt to allow individuals a great degree of personal freedom (because that brings a great deal of happiness)there are always going to be limits to the zealousness with which we pursue that goal. If we make pursuing individual license the top priority, or organizing principle, or gatekeeping value through which all societal decisions must pass, we end up weakening the bonds that keep things together.

And it strikes me that license is the principle that Volokh is organizing his thoughts around. And giving people license is often good, but often bad as well. It obliterates the idea that people must have self-control, or must be pursuing a higher goal in life than their own (often base and carnal) self-satisfaction. Individuals have a duty to the society to make decisions for better reasons than a narrow and shallow search for pleasure.

As to stepfather-stepchild sexual relations:

Families are the basic building block of society. All of the attempts to fiddle with that basic fact have generally proven to be massive failures.

Families must be places of safety for children, no matter what. There can be no hint or suggestion that a man in a position of father is out to please himself and his desires when it comes to the children of the house. Even if his wife has died, the relationship with a younger surviving stepdaughter would be wrong. He has served ni the role of father for many years, and the attitudes that the young woman has for him cannot help but be colored by her placing him in permanent role in her mind as "Father". Kids are often submissive to fathers (well, usually)and there is no good likelihood that she can make a good decision here. (especially if she is 18 or so. No 18 year old is emotionally mature enough to cabin her feelings properly and sort through the psychological confusion that is bound to result from such a relationship. As Traditional as it may sound, the father is still in the role of protector. To allow him to break out of that role and become a self-satisfier would be to strike at one of the reasons fathers are there in the first place.

Sometimes people make horrible mistakes, even though they are adults. If such behavior was one that really had no ill effects on families, or the individual members who chose to engage in this behavior, 5,000 years of civilization would have figured that out.

We are not running on base superstition or taboos here; we are running on 5,000 years of experience.
3.2.2007 7:42pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
One concern would be the potential for 'grooming' of the stepchild to being amenable to sexual congress on reaching majority. You are basically letting someone with a defacto authority over another, culturally even as an adult child, have sex with the subordinate.

If we can proscribe sexual congress between others in authority and their subordinates such as health care providers I don't see why you couldn't pass laws limiting the same when an even more significant authority differential is involved.
3.2.2007 7:43pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Anonymous Poster: When you say "this law," do you mean the law involved in the Ohio case? I don't read it as dealing with stepsiblings.

FantasiaWHT: It's true that if there were an existing social taboo on sex between teachers and former students, a law reinforcing the taboo would help decrease the possibility of a teacher-student relationship being seen as potentially sexual. The question is how much we should troubled by the possibility that such relationships might be so seen. My answer is a bit troubled, but not a lot; it isn't very bad if a student thinks of her teacher, "huh, I wonder if he's lusting after me," and while it might pose some problems, the problems aren't severe enough to justify prohibiting teacher-ex-student sex. (For those who are curious, no, I've never had sex with an ex-student of mine.) On the other hand, I think it is very bad when such speculations -- even ones that prove unfounded -- enter into stepfather-stepdaughter relationships. And it is only when the consequences are indeed very bad, it seems to me, that restricting sexual relationships between consenting adults becomes even potentially justified.
3.2.2007 7:45pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Bob Van Burkleo: The grooming point that you describe is an important one, and I think closely related to the reasoning I set forth.

But "You are basically letting someone with a defacto authority over another, culturally even as an adult child, have sex with the subordinate" seems to me to be going too far. In our culture, fathers and stepfathers do not have de facto authority over their 22-year-old daughters, and especially about the daughters' sex lives. That's why, if a father is trying to persuade his 22-year-old daughter to marry someone (because he thinks it's best for her, or because he thinks it's an advantageous alliance for the family), we likely wouldn't think of him as abusing his "de facto authority" — we might think he's a fool for thinking he can persuade her, or a jerk for trying, but probably not an abuser of authority. My guess is that persuading your 22-year-old daughter to have sex with you is harder still, and that the father in fact has no real authority that would make her do it.

Finally, the health care provider point doesn't quite cut in your direction. As I understand it, health care provider / patient sex, if legally actionable, is not a crime (absent some actual nonconsensual behavior or mental disability on the patient's part), and can at most lead to loss of a professional license. Not is the issue there authority as such; few people see their doctor as an "authority" in the sense of someone whom they must obey.

I don't mean to be nitpicky here; I think we agree on the bottom line that such behavior is at least harmful and may well merit criminalization. But it seems to me important to keep things precise, and distinguish the use of authority over adults from other things.
3.2.2007 7:54pm
Nice analysis Eugene, but what if the step-father first meets his future wife when the step-child is already an adult living on her own? How would sexual relations between the step-father and step-child harm other minor step-children?

This situation seems to me more like the husband having an affair with his wife's sister.
3.2.2007 7:56pm
Erisian23 (mail):
This particular line of thinking sounds both anti-libertarian and very poor as a general principle.

>> Rather, it seems to me that the most sensible argument for banning stepparent-stepchild sexual relationships -- and perhaps other familiar sexual relationships -- is to diminish (as much as possible) the risk that normalization of sexual attraction in stepparent/adult-stepchild relationships will color others' stepparent-stepchild relationships, including ones that involve minor stepchildren

Regarding "including ones that involve minor stepchildren", I have to object to your unfounded claim that an adult stepfather having sex with an adult stepdaughter encourages pedophilia in other families. The decision to engage in sexual relations with a minor presumes both criminality and public disapprobation - and this because the second party is a minor, without regard for any pre-existing relationship. As far as I know (and this isn't my area of expertise), the decision to abuse a child is not predicated on the presence of an existing biological or legal relationship. Those types of relationships are frequently involved simply because they are the most common forms of relatively safe (private) access to a child that is often lacking in many other more public situations. So the presence or absence of a familial or other custodial relationship is neither a factor in nor predictor for the occurance of a willingness to commit pedophilia in any given individual, though such a relationship can be an important factor in target selection when the pedophiliac commits to (premeditated or impulsive) action.

>> because it suggests that control of this [sexual relationship] is needed not just to protect a few adults from emotionally damaging decisions, but to protect millions of adults and children from the harm that may stem when their [particular type of] relationships become perceived as potentially sexual even when they themselves firmly resolve not to allow the relationships to actually become sexual.

Taking this as a general principle, isn't it true that we ought to criminalize consentual relationships between adult professors and adult students due to the risk that normalization of sexual attraction in such a relationship will color other teacher-student relationships, including ones that involve minor students? This same argument can be used to criminalize all sorts of relationships, whether doctor-patient, politician-constituent, manager-employee, husband-and-non-wife, my-best-friend's-boyfriend-and-me, etc.

The sexualization of many types of relationships is generally unwise, but I don't see the grounds for criminalizing the behavior. There are literally tons of foolish and overtly self-destructive behaviors we allow individuals to freely engage in and consent to with others. Why is the step-relationship between two adults so sacred that it must be protected by force of law?

Typical of most morality-based (vs. rights-based), paternalist arguments, a collective construct is created ("the family unit") and then elevated above the very individuals it collectively describes. The sum is greater than the parts, the argument goes, and - additionally - the sum needs protection from the parts. We then argue that the individual rights of adults must be subjugated to the greater [rights? needs? preferences? ideal model?] of the collective itself. In this case, we're argueing that we must protect the "idea of our ideal" family unit from the particular individual family members in a specific family unit.

By the same reasoning, we ought to outlaw divorce given its inherently destructive nature on both the family unit and particularly the husband-wife relationship, and because doing so will rightly give rise to greater reflection and commitment in individuals prior to their marrying. If we're for protecting the idea of the ideal relationship from the individuals actually in the relationship, why not?

Alternatively, the right of adult individuals to choose to engage in consentual stupidity ought not be abrogated by gov't force absent a showing of real external harm - a harm which is perferably already criminal and certainly one which rises to a higher bar than "it will hurt a third party's feelings" or "it might encourage third parties to behave in a similarly stupid manner".
3.2.2007 8:42pm
DaveN (mail):
I think there is a fundamental difference between sexual relations between a step-parent and helped raise a child and a step-parent who marries a person with grown children. Abd that difference should matter in how we treat incest. In my mind, it is present in one instance and absent in the other.

As a side note, I wonder about how an incest law would handle this situation: A and B are married. Subsequent to their marriage,A's mother marries B's father--and their respective parents did not even know each other prior to A and B's marriage. Since A and B are now technically step-brother and step-sister, are they engaging in incest?
3.2.2007 8:43pm
DaveN (mail):
"step-parent who helped raise" not "step-parent and helped raise"--we are given the preview button for a reason. I must remember to always click it first.
3.2.2007 8:44pm
Thank you for your response, EV!
3.2.2007 8:50pm
anonymous #2:
Unfortunately, I read this post with great interest.

I am not a libertarian; I am an old-fashioned conservative. I also am an adult who, as a child walked in on my father in bed with his step-daughter. His step-daughter was my half-sister, several years older than I. She was past the age of consent when I made the mistake of walking in on them.

What happens in such a family/household situation? Secrets, lies, and deceptions become the norm.

A divorce between my parents would have ended the step-relationship between my father and my half-sister. Death of either parent also would have ended (and eventually did end) the step-relationship between my father and my half-sister. However, all of my father's children were also the half-siblings of the young woman he took as a mistress. That cannot change.

After decades of pondering what most would see as unponderable, I have concluded that my half-sister was no innocent, and not sexually inexperienced when things began between her and my father. You'll recall the story "Mildred Pierce." People tend to remember the movie, but first it was a book, and the book is a bit different from the movie. In neither the book nor the film is Mildred's daughter Veda portrayed as a sympathetic innocent. Fashionable as it is for us to jump on the middle-aged man as the "guilty" one in a step-father/step-daughter relationship, author James Cain likely had a more accurate feel for such situations.

A female over the age of consent who has a willing affair with her step-father can gain control and "get the upper hand." The affair upsets any balance of power in a family, in a household.

Would more laws have prevented my father from crossing lines that he knew he should not have crossed? No.

There were victims as a consequence of the actions between my father and my half-sister, but my father's step-daughter (my half-sister) was NOT one of those victims. The victims were my father's own children.

What my father and his step-daughter did was immoral, but not illegal under the laws of the state, in the time and place where their affair happened.

I suspect, however, that even under the laws as they were in that time and place, the illegal aspect of the affair was what was done to my father's young children, in that they (we) became aware of the affair that was happening in the house where they lived.
3.2.2007 10:10pm
Anonymous Poster (mail):
Professor Volokh,
No. I mean the laws that one could imagine that the state (any of the 50) could write to protect some 'important' state interest. Why is age not a matter under the law you cite? The law makes no distinction between those who met as adults upon marrying the other's parent and those who met as major-minor after a similar marriage.

Note: I'm not arguing some parade of horribles. Rather, I'm arguing that once we remove disproportionate power in the relationship (Say, 60 y.o. marries 60 y.o. with 30 y.o. child - they're all adults - and consentual relations between child and step-parent emerge... regardless of gender) I cannot see the state's interest in the matter, save the "ick factor" mentioned previously.

And there's little to stop the "ick factor" being more inclusive than we would generally regard as appropriate. I, for one, am not willing to submit to that measure of whether laws are appropriate.
3.2.2007 10:45pm
Anonymous Poster (mail):
And I read the OSC's reasoning to include the possibility that the state could, if it so chose, ban my initial hypothetical between step-siblings if (as everything does) the ban could pass the reasonable basis test.
3.2.2007 10:57pm
unhyphenatedconservative (mail):
Oh, I get it. Libertarians don't have a problem with gays, so Lawrence was brilliant. But when taken to its next logical step - even if a given court decides for now to avoid that step - if the libertarian thinks that relationship is bad, then it's okay to ban it. At least until the next group of libertarians decides to be a little more progressive.
3.3.2007 12:41am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Did some one mention 5,000 years of civilization?

It was not uncommon for Pharoahs of Egypt to marry their biological sisters.

I don't think that bears on the current issue in the 21st Century, but one must remember that civilized people have had some strange ideas from time to time.

In the ME first cousin marriages are not uncommon. I don't know about uncle/niece marriages. Of course there are many who say the ME is uncivilized and I might tend to agree.
3.3.2007 2:35am
EV wrote:

Rather than relying on not-very-far-from-libertarian concerns about coercion (even of adults) or violation of promises (such as the marriage vow), this argument ...

I'm curious what about your final line of argument you see as being particularly non-Libertarian?

I'm not so sure this line of reasoning is much different than consent/coercion concerns. The law is setting up a broad rule that reenforces certain social boundaries needed for the protection of consent and for the stability of the social structure that the state is attempting to create/harness/preserve.

Yes, there are probably a few marginal cases where the law prevents what should be an acceptable relationship, but I'd suspect that on the whole it is establishing a boundary that is beneficial in a far greater number of cases.

When entering into a state-recognized marriage is voluntary, and when the potential benefit of the rule is high, how much of a concern do we really need to have for perfect justice in those few marginal cases? So long as the animating force behind the law isn't what a previous poster called "the ick factor" my answer is that our level of concern for perfect justice is not high enough to trump the law.

The objection to this could of course be that the law is impotent compared to the social stigma, and thus ineffective, but I doubt such an assertion would be uncontroversial.
3.3.2007 3:13am

That's why, if a father is trying to persuade his 22-year-old daughter to marry someone (because he thinks it's best for her, or because he thinks it's an advantageous alliance for the family), we likely wouldn't think of him as abusing his "de facto authority"

I would tend to disagree with that. Even if that pressure is ultimately ineffective, it is still a powerful force that could, depending on circumstance, constitute some sort of abuse of his position. At 22 most people are not yet on their feet financially and emotionally. There are still many worldly things with which they find themselves in need of parental assisstance. The specter of parental disaproval can still hang heavy.
3.3.2007 3:15am
Ethan Hahn (mail):
Could another state interest be that it wishes for stepchildren to be seen as in the same relationship as biological children? And that any fundamental difference in how the law treats a biological child and how it treats a stepchild is an acknowledgement that it is not the same? And that allowing a sexual relationship in one case, and barring it in the other, is a radical difference in treatment?

Sorry, I can't form this into a quality argument - I haven't thought much about it...but it's the thought I had when you introduced your post with the question of what the state's interest might be...
3.3.2007 9:26am
sarnac (mail):
The discussion of the case in question has not mentioned the participants ages nor the status of the intermediate spouse+parent. I believe both to be completely relevant.

Hypothetical: son@40 has Father@60 who marries wife@50. Some time later, stepmom@55 has affair with stepson@45.
Variable 1: father still alive?
Variable 2: stepmom has financial influence over stepson (influence-will, controls inheritance, controls trust find)

Spacing the ages as I have eliminates the ICK-factor.

To make it more stark, how about where son@40 has father@90 who marries wife@40.

Now an even stranger case:
Dying-Multi-Billioniare@90 marries his son@40's fiance (as an estate-tax-dodge). The Son@40 + fiance/stepmom's relationship was sexual before and after the cross-generational marriage, the father+son's-fiance never were. Father dies, son marries his fiance, billions transferred, no estate-tax.
3.3.2007 9:30am
Jim Thomason (mail):
Strange that no one has mentioned Woody Allen's marriage to his adopted daughter, so I thought I would rectify that. Perhaps Mr. Lowe and his step-daughter should just move to New York.
3.3.2007 9:56am
Dave N (mail):
Jim Thomason,

While there is a definite "ick" factor with Woody Allen's relationship with Soon Yi-Previn, he was never married to Mia Farrow--Soon Yi-Previn's mother.

The "ick" factor, of course, is that Allen had a 12 year relationship with Farrow where they apparently lived together and shortly after the break-up, moved in with Previn, who was only 22 at the time.
3.3.2007 10:21am
Dick Schweitzer (mail):
Did I miss something? Was not the issue here to determine when the "State" can (or should) criminalize particular conduct? What kind of entity must we conceive the "State" to be for "it" to have a "legitimate interest" (or as more compelling in Federal lingo "a Compelling Interest")?

We apply the title "State" to jurisdictional divisions of this nation, but that does not change what they are. They are governments, and governments are only mechanisms. So, in our concepts of what uses may be made of those mechanisms, is this type of criminalization (coercion and penalization) a necessary, appropriate,or effective let alone "justifiable" use of those mechanisms?

Governments, as mechanisms have no "interests." Interests are the province of the individuals in the social order. The issue becomes: Is this a circumstance in which some individuals (even a vast majority) within a social order, for purposes of their own objectives and to enforce their views on "reprehensible" conduct, can use governmental powers to constrain the conduct of others?

R. R. Schweitzer
3.3.2007 1:36pm
Mark P (mail):
I think this analysis about signaling to other step-parent/step-child families where the child is still a minor is a fascinating idea. I have thought for some time that something along these lines could be a useful response to the common objection by advocates of homosexual marriage to the "pro-creation" arguments against homosexual marriage. Advocates of homosexual marriage point to the fact that sterile heterosexuals (or heterosexuals past reproductive age or heterosexuals that don't want to have children) get to marry while homosexuals don't and say "that's not consistent or fair." To which I've always thought the best response might be one that used this signaling idea--heterosexual childless couples' participation in the institution of marriage is consistent with the archetypical pro-creative marriage, and thus does not conflict with the social signal that heterosexual, pro-creative marriage is the norm for human sexual pairings. That, of course, is not true for homosexual couples.
The usefulness of this argument, I suppose, depends on how important we think the signaling function is for the use of the word "marriage." If we think the word describes an institution that is supposed to be life-long, monogamous, and in most cases ordered around reproduction and the rearing of the next generation, then reserving that term for heterosexuals would not seem arbitrary or capricious.
3.3.2007 1:52pm
jvarisco (www):
"Moreover, if this story is right, then this suggests that the incest ban should apply even if the stepfather and stepmother divorce, and even if the stepfather is a widower."

What is the status of stepchildren after divorces? Are the now divorced step-parents still considered step-parents, or do they lose all rights to the children? If the latter is correct, I don't see that the prohibition would need to include them. Not that it would hurt - I'm sure most step-parents would not simply disappear forever. This is why comparisons to teachers/students etc. don't work. After the given situation ends, the relationship is over. Though there should still be moral (rather than legal) barriers; professors are legally allowed to marry former students, but it's hardly something they should go around doing. With a family, relationships last as long as people are alive. When people become adults, that does not mean they no longer have parents, or that parents somehow change their relationship fundamentally. I could legally refuse to obey my parents now, but I'm not going to. And such families are what the state wants to protect.

Note that this is also in my opinion one of the strong arguments against gay marriage. It's not that the gay couples will actually harm anyone, but that they will erode the idea of the mother-father-children traditional family, which the state has an interest in preserving.
3.3.2007 7:27pm
Hudnut Lives:
If this is a form of thought control, then why isn't it as pernicious as Catherine MacKinnon's statutory porn ban?
3.4.2007 4:03pm