Why is Incest Illegal?
Yesterday two people in Birmingham were given prison sentences for the crime of incest. The judge said when sentencing them that “There appears to have been a relationship that involved genuine affection,” but then went on to say that it was “abhorrent to society at large.” Why is this being deemed as acceptable?
If the ongoing fight for LGBT rights has taught us anything it is that no matter what the opinion of society at large is about certain sexual practices they should still be legal between consenting adults. To say that an activity is not something you would wish to partake in yourself should be illegal when it does not affect anyone beyond those taking part is simply bigotry.
As far as I can tell there are two arguments those who support the current incest laws use to back up their position. The first is that it makes it easier to convict people in the case of non-consensual abuse. This argument clearly makes no sense. Non-consensual sexual abuse is already illegal. If there are problems obtaining convictions then there is a serious problem, but it will not be remedied by making something else unrelated illegal. It would be like making jay-walking illegal in order to make murder prosecutions easier.
But it becomes worse than illogical when someone who has not committed an abuse is prosecuted and ends up in prison – it becomes unjust. Failure and laziness on the part of prosecutors and legislators to properly address a problem has lead essentially innocent people being jailed.
The second argument against incest is that any resulting offspring from such a union would have a higher chance of having a disability. This line of argument has a name: eugenics.
The idea that a particular person or couple should be banned from breeding on the basis of the likely genetic health of their offspring has been around for a long time. It is, however, widely recognized as an abhorrent restriction of a person’s freedom and human rights. If we invoke this as an argument for the continued ban of incest then surely we must extend it to other individuals and couples who have similar or higher chances of producing disabled children. I for one find that suggestion horrific.
Our prisons are full. We are spending an inordinate amount of money on them while simultaneously cutting vital public services. Why are we still locking people up for who they want to have sex with?