By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog
How did the state that regulates EVERYTHING forget to ban incest, Save Jerseyans?
It boggles the mind!
Following the breaking of a nationally-circulated story about a father and daughter who want to move to New Jersey to tie the knot, public disgust is palpable if social media chatter is an accurate indicator. Remember: everyone is an expert on complex social issues like marriage in the age of Twitter.
Meanwhile, in Trenton, Asw. Mary Pat Angelini (R-Monmouth) is introducing legislation to close the loophole and outlaw the reviled practice. Incest was actually banned in New Jersey until 1979. It’s still illegal in all circumstances if at least one party is under the age of 18.
“Incestuous relationships create many ethical questions and are often times sexually-abusive relationships blurred by the ‘consensual’ loophole,” explained Angelini. Polygamy is illegal in all U.S. states (it’s a misdemeanor in New Jersey but a felony in others) for similar reasons.
I agree with all of that. No question. And I would vote to outlaw it, too. No question!
Here’s the rub: stepping back for a moment and widening our lens, we need to acknowledge how whenever governments regulate private relationships, and they do so on the basis of a public policy concern (in this case, an alleged imbalance of power), we’re always engaging in an inherently subjective analysis and, therefore, a potentially problematic one.
Trenton simplifies with the intent to stupefy. Don’t worry: I’m here to pick up the slack for them…
Back when gay marriage was being actively debated (FYI – in case you’ve missed it, same sex marriage legalization is now a fait accompli in America, unless SCOTUS shocks in June), opponents cited studies/data/theories suggesting children benefited from a heterosexual parenting environment or, taking it a step further, were somehow harmed by a homosexual parenting dynamic. Those arguments were vigorously attacked and met with countervailing studies/data/theories.
What ultimately carried the day? A cultural movement driven by the idea that two consenting adults, in love, shouldn’t be told whom they could marry in a free country.
Uncontroversial? In that context, yes!
Just like it’s uncontroversial, in most circles, that children cannot consent to marry and a father and daughter should not be able to marry.
But if abuse and the consent issues it implicates are truly our concern, then maybe we should also outlaw marriages where one party is an alcoholic?
Should we mandate divorce in cases of drug abuse?
Let me be clear: I have no problem with consenting adults, regardless of sex, marrying one another. What I’m saying is that you really need to deprogram, take a step back, open your mind and think about this kind of stuff a little deeper, folks. Don’t react; scrutinize! The substance AND the procedural aspects, too. In all ten dimensions. Someone needs to because Trenton never does. I mean, this is the town that’s actively considering “rape by fraud” legislation.
Cookie-cutter talking points don’t always apply. Here, the 18-year-old woman is exactly that: a woman. She’s an adult in the legal sense and, as far as I know, it hasn’t been reported that she suffers from any mental handicaps (save for a severe Oedipal complex) which would render her unable to make a free and consensual decision. Nothing in the story suggests the presence of duress, fraud, etc. And I know we don’t want the government to start deciding what’s legitimate “love” and what isn’t. Right?
Even the classic “we’re protecting kids against growing up with webbed-toes” point no longer applies since, as we’re reminded all the time by our cultural overlords, marriage is hardly contingent upon the act of childbearing and child-rearing.
So in each case, in truth, we’re basically turning laymen and laywomen loose (1) interpreting studies produced by academics and (2) applying their personal cultural attitudes to the findings. Legislators who have a higher level a familiarity with incest’s close cousin, nepotism.
When liberals like the legislative outcome, then they’re heroically and progressively protecting a vulnerable class from abuse. When they don’t agree with the end result? They denigrate the regulatory action as “legislating morality.” But as you can see, it’s all really just a matter of interpretation. Sometimes a highly-subjective one at that.
Our moral for this story?
Tread carefully! This is an opportunity to elevate our public discourse. There’s always going to be a slippery slope to navigate in this area of the law, and it’s always going to be more complex than the self-appointed guardians of civilization (on either side of each respective debate) would lead you to believe. And before legislators tinker with private relationships or decide to go full-demagogue for political gain, they need to start thinking – long and hard – about what role government is supposed to have in the process, not just what end result they’d like see were they king or queen for a day.
Supplementary reading: go ahead and read my 2013 “Save Marriage by Ending It” piece if you want a little more fodder for thought….