The Instigator
Con (against)
8 Points
The Contender
Pro (for)
0 Points

Consensual incest should be illegal in the United States

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Post Voting Period
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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/22/2014 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 8,044 times Debate No: 49696
Debate Rounds (2)
Comments (3)
Votes (2)




== Definitions ==

Incest = sexual relations between two people who are at least as genetically related as first cousins, meaning they share 12.5% of their DNA. This would include "sexual relations" between: siblings (50%), half-siblings (25%), parents and children (50%), grandparents and grandchildren (25%), aunts/uncles and nieces/nephews (25%), and first cousins (12.5%). [11]

Sexual relations = any sexual behavior between individuals [7]

Illegal = against the law; subject to criminal punishment

C1) Accidental incest

The definition of incest contains no knowledge requirement - that the two people know they are related when they are having sexual relations. Incest should not be criminalized because a significant number of incestuous relationships are accidental. It is surprisingly common for brothers and sisters raised apart to meet and fall in love, without knowing they are related.

For example, a couple recently found out at their wedding [when mutual relatives first met each other and saw familiar faces] that they were in fact brother and sister. [1] They had been split up at birth. At the time of their wedding, they had already been together for 5 years and had a child together. [1] Another brother-sister married-couple found out they were fraternal twins separated at birth. [6] Another couple met in college, got married, and had 3 children. [4] They later found out that they were half brother and sister because their mothers were both lesbians who used a sperm donor. [5] After trying to track down their biological fathers, they found out that it was actually the same person. As use of assistive reproductive technology becomes more common (and lesbian couples have more children), accidental incest will become more common.

It seems unfair to punish people who accidentally or unknowingly engage in incest. Given that human biology is designed to avoid sexual attraction towards the people that we are raised with, accidental incest seems like the predominant type of incestuous relationship. And since relationships are more public than secretive affairs, these are the crimes most likely to come to the awareness of law enforcement and be prosecuted. Therefore, it seems unfair to ban incest because it results in unfair prosecutions.

C2) Unenforceability

In most cases, it will be impossible to enforce the law without violating the Constitution. People have a right to privacy, and the Supreme Court said in Griswold v. Connecticut and reaffirmed in Lawrence v. Texas that the bedroom is a private place that the State should not be barging into. The Constitution does not allow the law enforcement tactics that would be necessary to enforce incest laws because such methods violate the Constitutional right to privacy inherent in the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment. Therefore, because incest laws are unconstitutional, vote Con.

C3) Harm Principle

Social contract theory attempts to define the times when that the State can legitimately exercise its power over individuals. We begin by imagining a state of nature that pre-dates society. According to John Locke, "the State of Nature, the natural condition of mankind, is a state of perfect and complete liberty to conduct one"s life as one best sees fit, free from the interference of others." [10] People then agree to give up some of their freedom in order to live in a society. [10] John Stuart Mills argued that the only reason that people give up this freedom is to be protected from being harmed by others. Thus, Mills concluded that "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."

The State cannot legitimately ban consensual incest because it harms no one. Both partners want the sexual contact to occur. The genetic risk to any potential child is not a sufficient argument because:

  1. (1) Children have no right to not be conceived. If anything, they have a right to life, regardless of their genetic makeup.

  2. (2) The genetics argument cannot be used to justify prohibiting people from procreating. The same "genetic risk" argument could be used to tell people who are already married and know they each have a certain genetic trait [e.g. because they have already had a child with the disease] that they cannot reproduce. The same argument would mean telling people with dominant-gene diseases that they cannot reproduce at all. The same argument would mean telling Jewish people they can"t marry other Jews, since a lot of traits - such ulcerative colitis and 29 other serious genetic diseases - are much more prevalent in the Jewish gene pool. [3] The same argument would mean telling people with Downs Syndrome that they cannot have children. A single partner with Downs has a 25% chance of having a Downs baby, whereas a couple who both have Downs have a 50% chance of having a Downs baby and a 25% chance of the pregnancy not being viable, meaning if the child survives to birth, there is a two-thirds chance it will have Downs. [2] However, most people believe that these genetics arguments would not fly in such situations because the liberty interest allows people the freedom of self-determination, as the Supreme Court stated in Lawrence v. Texas. That case held that assertions of "morality" are not a sufficient reason to justify the passage of a law. In essence, Lawrence requires a law to satisfy the harm principle or else it would violate the liberty interest in the 14th Amendment.

  3. (3) Given the risks recounted in #2, the 12.5% genetic relationship cutoff for incest seems completely arbitrary. There can be no moral reason that sex between people who share more DNA than this cutoff is immoral and sex between people who share less DNA than the cutoff is completely fine. For the rule to make sense, we would have to subject everyone to testing for genetic similarity prior to marriage and ban marriages if the similarity is too high. Otherwise, the only justification for incest laws is some arbitrary "ick factor."

  4. (4) Lastly, the genetics argument cannot justify disallowing incest between same-sex partners. Sister-sister and brother-brother incest must be legal if the only justification for banning it is that they might have messed up children because gay sex cannot result in reproduction. Banning incest using genetics as a justification would therefore be held to be a violation of the Due Process clause because laws must have a "rational basis," and it is irrationally overbroad to apply incest laws to couples who cannot reproduce. In City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, the Supreme Court held that irrationally overbroad laws are unconstitutional.

C3) Punishing children who are just experimenting is bad

Brothers and sisters sometimes play around with each other and "play doctor" as they are learning about the bodies of the other gender.

Research has estimated 10-15% of the general population as having at least one incestuous sexual contact, with less than 2% involving intercourse. [8] Because incest as defined as involving "sexual relations," this covers a much broader range of conduct than simply intercourse. If incest is illegal in all cases, we would be forced to throw children in juvenile detention for consensual sex play between young children of nearly the same age. This doesn"t make sense. Prison often operates as a "school for criminals" because it has the potential to take in someone not predisposed to crime and turn him into a hardened criminal. Once someone has gone to jail, he [or she] suddenly attracts social stigma as being a criminal and many of his [or her] peers and friends are now comprised of people he [or she] met in jail. Sending the 10-15% of small children who engage in incest to jail would merely produce a large population of recidivist criminals.

In addition, incarcerating 15% of the population for incest would cost approximately $11 trillion, assuming a relatively short prison sentence of only 2 years. [9] The costs of making consensual incest illegal are simply not worth the benefits.

[7] Google "define: sexual relations"
[8] Nemeroff, W. Edward; Craighead (2001). The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology and Behavioral Science.
[9] $28,000 average cost of incarceration per year (assuming 2 years in prison); $10,000 cost to arrest []; $42,000 per hour court costs (assuming a short 3 hour trial) []


Accidental incest: Breaking a law is not a matter of fairness, as it stands when you commit the act of incest you are committing a crime. In Germany Patrick Stuebing was convicted of incest and his two children were taken away, the European union of Human rights upheld Germany's ruling basing this on the thought that Germany had a "wide margin of appreciation" (seemingly allowing someone to violate human rights with a cultural or historical precedent which is against the whole point of making a league of human rights )

Incest laws are unconstitutional because they violate our right to liberty, the most important principle of which is self-determination as you have said. The constitution does not matter to the government [5] it is only a matter of enforcement (if they can they will)

Harm principle:
Despite those studies there have been many specific cases of children born with severe genetic disorders due to incest, in the case of Patrick Stuebing his daughter and son were born with special needs and epilepsy respectively. In a study related on telegraph uk's website 700 children are born each year with rare genetic diseases due to cousin marriage.
The ashkenazi jew population have a widely studied genetic profile, they carry rare genetic disease including tay-sachs disease [4] a neuronal disease which manifests itself in muscular and neuronal deterioration and depending upon the onset age can be deadly. The reason that is pertinent is that the Ashkenazi jews are an endogamous population meaning that they have been inbreeding and this inbreeding has been for generations.

seemingly the argument is now [all] Consensual incest should be illegal (my argument) v [all] consensual incest should be legal. Incest is harmful socially as well as psychologically (psychosocially). it confounds human ancestry and purpose, it is a debasement of human self-worth (really she's your sister). In nearly all cases of incest it is a matter of coercion or bald power dynamics. Perhaps it shouldn't be illegal but socially and culturally it should remain taboo and that childhood "play" remains as it should as perhaps a personal fuzzy memory.

Margaret Mead has a good argument for why an incest taboo need be cultivated
without the intrusion of "inappropriate sexuality." Children can "wander freely, sitting on laps, pulling beards, and nestling their heads against comforting breasts-neither tempting nor being tempted beyond their years." [7]

Sexual tension in a "safe" family environment would introduce a lot of unnecessary psychic pain into a childs life.Legalizing incest is going backwards in society, forcing a child to find its social identity within the framework of a family with seemingly no boundaries is a task that no one should have foisted upon them. I belive there is a reason incest is associated with pedophilia and this is statistically backed up "it is estimated that 1 in 5 women are sexually abused by a relative by the age of 16" . [6]

What does this have to do with consensual sex then? Well my argument is that in no circumstances would legalizing incest be a good idea, I say no from the perspective that there are no social benefits and it does not "promote the general welfare or ensure domestic tranquility" find another sexual partner, if this argument is about whether or not true love exists ("I've found THE ONE") then please enlighten me. Legalizing incest would only legitimize incest, and it is still to be seen whether incest is a paraphilia or not, to me genetic sexual attraction (I'm attracted because they look like me) just sounds like a form of narcissism which would make sense given that Patrick Stuebings sister-wife has a personality disorder herself.

Debate Round No. 1


== Burden of proof ==

Pro does not uphold his half of the burden of proof by providing a morally sufficient reason that consensual acts of incest should be illegal. He merely attempts to shift the burden of proof to me and attempts to refute a few of my points. However, I have provided a morally sufficient reason *not* to ban consensual acts of incest: it harms no one, as long as birth control is used. Pro does not offer any reason at all to ban it, except possibly genetics, but he drops all 4 of my responses to why genetics are not a sufficient reason to ban consensual incest. Do not let him bring up new arguments in the final round because I do not have a chance to respond.

1) Accidental incest

I argued that it was unfair to put people in jail for having sex with siblings when they do it on accident because they do not know that their wife is actually their sibling (since they were separated since they were children). My opponent"s only response is: "Breaking a law is not a matter of fairness." However, whether me make something illegal is a matter of fairness. We should not criminalize accidental behavior because people do not have criminal intent. I should win on this argument alone because most prosecutions will be against people who are engaging in incest publicly, meaning they are in an incestuous relationship. And since biology causes humans to be naturally repulsed (sexually) if the humans are raised together, the vast majority of cases where people are in incestuous relations is going to be when they are not aware that their spouse is actually related to them. The Patrick Stuebing cases involves an individual who was raised apart from his sister [in foster case] until he was 23.

My opponent says that the European Court of Human Rights says that Germany has a "wide margin of appreciation." This term [margin of appreciation] is the EU courts way of saying that it is granting deference to the country in question. The "margin of appreciation" is similar to the concept of federalism in the United States, where some issues (such as marriage and education) are generally left to the states. The court"s ruling *does not* mean that it was not potential violation of Stuebing"s rights to say that he could not have consensual sex with his sister. It means that if any court is going to find a violation of rights, it has to be the German Supreme Court, not the EU court.

2) Unenforceability

The debate is over right here. My opponent *concedes* that prohibiting consensual incest would violate the Constitution. He says, "Incest laws are unconstitutional because they violate our right to liberty, the most important principle of which is self-determination as you have said." My opponent"s only response is that the government "does not care" about violating the Constitution. He cites a source which lists a bunch of laws that his author considers unconstitutional. However, there are two problems with this:

First, even if we assume that the government sometimes violates the Constitution, this does not mean that they *should* violate the Constitution or that we should allow them to do so. The topic asks whether the United States *should* make consensual incest illegal, not whether it *could* make consensual incest illegal. Because we *should* uphold our constitutional values, you should vote Con.

Second, my opponent is simply wrong. The statutes listed by his source have never been challenged in court. In contrast, the Lawrence Supreme Court case directly held that people have a right to privacy in the bedroom, so states cannot outlaw sodomy. The Supreme Court also held in Lawrence that "morality" was not a sufficient justification for making something illegal. So even if my opponent could prove that incest was immoral, this is not a sufficient justification under the Constitution.

3) Harm Principle

My opponent cites a study (without sourcing it) that says that 700 children are born each year with rare genetic diseases due to cousin marriage. However, my opponent doesn"t respond to any of my attacks on why genetic risk is not a sufficient reason to ban consensual incest.

First, remember that if you ban *any* marriage that involves heightened genetic risk to children, you"d have to ban Jewish people from marrying each other, people who *have* rare genetic diseases from marrying anyone, and older people from marrying anyone [because advanced maternal and paternal age correlate with a host of genetic diseases, including Downs]. If you read the article my opponent is citing, all of the risks it lists are also risks that older women face when having children. [1]

Second, I asked why 12.5% should be the arbitrary cutoff point when people are too genetically related to have children. My opponent never justifies this number. He cites this study that in the entire United Kingdom, 700 children are born each year with genetic diseases to cousin marriages. [1] However, this study suffers from the base-rate fallacy: my opponent never tells you *how common* cousin marriages are in the UK and never tells you *how common* genetic diseases are in the normal population. For example, Crohns Disease is a rare and serious genetic disorder. Approximately 1 in 1000 people in any given population will get Crohns Disease. [2] The UK population is 63 million. [3] Therefore, you would expect 63,000 people in the UK to be born with Crohns Disease each year. Suddenly my opponent"s "700" statistics doesn"t seem all that bad, when you know the base rate for rare diseases in the general population. The *other* factor to consider is that cousin marriages are extremely common in the UK. My opponent"s own source says: "Research shows the number of cousin marriages has risen dramatically in the UK over the last three decades." [1] His source also says that in the British Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, 25% of all marriages are cousin marriages. [1] Given *how common* cousin marriage is in the United States and given that some rare genetic disorders are *inevitable* in any population, the "700" statistic does not look bad at all. This proves that the 12.5% level of genetic similarity is an arbitrary cut-off point based on fear mongering because people fail to understand the base rate fallacy.

My opponent"s argument is a slippery slope. If we"re worried about genetic damage to children, why not a 5% cut-off point or a 2% cut-off point? If you go back far enough, we all share a common ancestor, so maybe none of us should procreate.

Third (and probably most importantly), my opponent does not respond to the argument that genetic risk to a future baby is not morally considerable because there is no right not to be born. If not for the incestuous relationship, that particular baby would not have ever existed. If anything, once a baby is conceived, it has a right to life regardless of whether it is genetically damaged. If the State were to take seriously the proposition that someone with genetic damage does not have a right to life, then babies with genetic diseases should all be aborted or killed upon birth. But this is not the case. It seems hard to say that two parents are "harming a child" by conceiving it, even if it has increased risk of genetic disease because - without the conception - the child would not even exist, which is equivalent to death.

For the above reasons, the "harm" from incestuous sex is not to the child who faces increased genetic risk because that child would not have otherwise been given a chance to exist. That particular consciousness (brought about by a particular combination of genes) would not otherwise exist. The only true harm from a genetically damaged child is to the parents, who have to pay the increased cost of raising the child. But this risk is like any other calculated risk that people are allowed to take. People can drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes, even though these are behaviors that might harm them. People are allowed to assess the risk and act accordingly. For first cousins, if they are both carriers for a genetic disease, the risk that any given child will have the disease is only 25% [for most diseases, since most genetic diseases are non-dominant]. And the chance they both have the disease in the first place is rather slim (6.25%). People should be allowed (under the harm principle) to assess these risks and determine how they want to act accordingly [the right to self determination].

Fourth, my opponent does not answer my argument that not all incestuous sex is capable of producing children, and even if it is, people can use birth control. Assuming a same-sex relationship or the couple uses birth control, there is between a zero percent and 1% chance of even *having* a child. There is no reason offered in today"s debate why people can"t have incestuous sex if they take preventative measures so they can"t have children. Also, not all incest involves intercourse. My opponent fails to justify why lesser forms of "sexual relations" should be prohibited.

My opponent also drops the statistic that it would cost $11 trillion to incarcerate everyone who has ever engaged in any incestuous sexual behavior. My opponent"s source also highlights, as far as the cost-benefit calculation goes, that the State would need to lock up *substantial* numbers of people in the Pakstani and Bangladeshi communities if it were to outlaw consensual incest. The costs are simply not worth the benefits. We might avoid a few genetically damaged children, but we would lose $11 trillion locking people up for consensual behavior, even if it doesn"t even rise to the level of intercourse. Because the costs outweigh the benefits, vote Con.

In addition, remember that the harm principle argues that the State cannot legitimately use its coercive power to make something illegal unless it harms another member of society. Since harm to future children is not morally cognizable because children do not have a right *not* to be born, the State cannot legitimately outlaw consensual incest under the harm principle. So Vote Con on this as well.

4) Punishing children who are experimenting

My opponent doesn"t bother responding at all to my statistics showing that it is relatively common for small children of the opposite gender to experiment with each other when they are younger. Most of these encounters do not involve full on intercourse, but the definition of incest includes any sexual contact of any time. It would be unproductive in our society to lock up small children for this type of behavior. Vote Con on this because my opponent never responds to it.

5) Molestation

My opponent seems to be advancing an argument that a portion of incest involves older relatives molesting younger individuals. This may be true, but does not fall within the resolution. Our society defines sex between someone older than the age of consent (16 in most states) and someone younger than the age of consent to be statutory rape. We consider someone under the age of consent to be incapable of consenting to sex with an older person. Thus, all of my opponent"s examples of molestation fall *outside* the resolution and you cannot vote on them because the resolution is only about consensual incest.

6) They can just find someone else

This is my opponent"s last argument - his own personal moral judgment that people who engage in incest should just "find someone else." However, it is not up to my opponent who you or I have sex with. The same moral judgments were used to tell interracial couples to "just find someone else" when interracial marriage was still illegal. The same subjective moral judgments are used to tell gay people to "just find someone of the opposite gender" when they wanted to marry someone who they were in love with. As the Supreme Court said in Lawrence, our job as a society in crafting our criminal laws is *not* to impose our own morality upon other people. Our criminal laws have to be reserved for something more than our personal moral condemnation. For all these reasons, I urge a Con vote.

[3] Google "population of UK"


I forfeit this round
Debate Round No. 2
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by bluesteel 6 years ago
No, I'm a Republican now. My fiance convinced me it's a slightly better party.
Posted by benko12345678 6 years ago
Bluesteel, I read your profile...That scares me...Are you really a neo-nazi?
Posted by bluesteel 7 years ago
Pressfield, I thought you said you had already typed up your response and could post it immediately if I started another debate. I wouldn't have instigated this new debate if I thought that was not the case.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by whiteflame 7 years ago
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Total points awarded:40 
Reasons for voting decision: Well, there's the forfeit. There's the fact that Pro doesn't respond to pretty much any of Con's argumentation directly, and that many of his sourced arguments are not applicable to his arguments. There's the problem with there being a number of assertions that really do nothing for Pro at all. Overall, Con simply dominated this debate.
Vote Placed by SeventhProfessor 7 years ago
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Total points awarded:40 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro ignored his BoP and left Pro's arguments unrebutted, Con didn't finish the debate.

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