Who You May and May Not Marry

Last week I had to tell my daughter that she was not legally allowed to marry the person of her choice, the person that she loved more than anyone else, because society would not permit it.  You see, my 5-year-old daughter Ruby wanted to marry her 2-year-old brother Edward.  Not now, obviously.  She was quite content to wait until they were grown-ups, but it was my duty as Dad to break the news to her that she could never marry her brother.

This actually got me thinking quite a bit about the issue of gay marriage, which I have to tell you before I launch into this that I have no problem with.  But here’s the thing: many types of people are not legally allowed to get married, and I’ll bet that even the staunchest gay marriage supporter thinks that this is okay.

One of the main arguments I hear from the anti-gay marriage groups is that gay marriage will destroy “traditional” marriage, and that if we allow same-sex couples to marry, that eventually people will be marrying their toasters and chihuahuas and whatnot.  This argument is insane, and not at all rational.  “Traditional” marriage previously included trading daughters for land and/or livestock, having multiple wives and/or concubines, and now includes such fun provisions as annulment and/or divorce.  Traditional marriage is a mess, and not only that, but it has changed repeatedly over the years.  Some cultures have arranged marriage.  Some countries allow marriage between people as young as 15, while others require you to be 21.  There are a lot of rules regarding marriage, and they are definitely not the same in all places.  And they change.

Then there is the matter of marrying your toaster.  The pro-gay marriage camp will tell you that this is absurd, because a toaster cannot give consent.  Marriage should be between two consenting adults, no matter their gender, and your dog cannot give consent, nor can any of your major appliances (depending on the warranty).  But if marriage is between two consenting adults, why can’t Ruby marry Edward someday?  What if a brother and a sister really are in love with each other?  And why can’t cousins get married in most places?  For that matter, why can’t you marry your mother if you see fit?  Oedipus did it, and the Targaryens have been inbreeding for generations!  Clearly, the issue is not just about two consenting adults.

Let’s be honest.  The real reason we don’t want gay people to get married is because we think it is yucky and unnatural.  We also think marrying our siblings is yucky and unnatural.  Birth defects and genetic variation aside, there is just something wrong with marrying members of your immediate family.  Wrong because as a society, we say that it is wrong.  But society changes too.

Interracial marriage was once banned, but enough people were upset about it that they got together, formed a movement, and demanded their rights.  It was slightly more complicated than that, but it worked.  Now, we have a similar movement happening in the gay community.  Why is this at the forefront of our news cycle and our election debates?  Because enough people are upset about it and are making a fuss.  And nothing ever changed in this world without somebody making a fuss, and that’s the truth.  So now we have to talk about it, and we have to think about it, and a lot of folks out there still think it is yucky and don’t want to think about it, and want to vote it out of their heads.  Except it’s not going to go away.  The definition of marriage is changing yet again.

And the thing is, those things you are all upset about?  They are happening anyway.  Members of the same sex are still living together.  They are still having sex.  They are adopting children.  They are having fights.  They are breaking up.  They are staying together for 50+ years.  They are having relationships.  Whether we “allow” them to get married or not, it doesn’t stop them from doing what you want to stop them from doing.  All we are doing is punishing them for it, which is just mean.  Preventing gay people from visiting each other in the hospital doesn’t prevent them from loving each other.

But my point, really, is this: let’s not pretend that we all think that marriage should be between any two consenting adults, because we don’t really think that.  And if you do think that, well, you are certainly on the fringes of society, which is cool with me, but be careful what you say to certain people.  I don’t know how many close relatives out there actually want to get married.  I’m sure some of them do, somewhere, but there don’t seem to be enough of them out in the public eye to form any sort of movement.  Maybe someday there will be.  Maybe someday the George-Michael Bluths and the Jaime Lannisters of the world will get together and demand that their love be legally recognized, but until that time, incest is still a pretty dirty word, even between consenting adults/

I have a lot of gay friends who love each other and I don’t see a problem with their marriages.  I don’t know any siblings who want to get married, but what would I say if I did?  It’s a complicated issue.  As far as I know, the reason we do not allow close relatives to marry is because their children would have a high chance for having a variety of genetic problems, but is marriage only about children these days?  Certainly not for the gay community.   There are plenty of ways for two people to have a child without both of them providing genetic material, right?

And again, just so we’re clear, I have no problem with gay marriage, and I am not a huge incest supporter.  But how can I tell Ruby that marriage is between any two consenting adults in the same conversation that I tell her she can’t marry her brother?  I just want people to be able to make clear arguments and have thoughtful discussions without resorting to tired party lines and rhetoric that doesn’t make any sense.  And that goes for both sides.  Say what you believe.  Take a stand.  But know what you are saying, and know exactly where you are standing.

Posted in Edward, Game of Thrones, Marriage, Ruby.


  1. Good work, Adam; I like this post. I find gay marriage to be a very complex and emotionally-charged issue. Like you, I have found some major arguments on both sides to be overly simplistic and even antagonistic toward those with opposing viewpoints. I think this post is very thought-provoking and well written, exposing the straw man and red herring arguments that are often cited on both sides.

  2. Right on. & How about adopted siblings? We grow fond of (or we loathe) who/what we’re familiar with. Siblings fight, play, and perhaps become comfortable with a “known”.
    There’s the another issue of control or dominance. Same as the rules against fraternizing with subordinates (the Oedipus issue again).
    (btw, you might have put quotes around “sex” in that 4th to the last paragraph, 2nd occurrence.)

  3. That’s funny, because I just saw a really wonderful production of “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore”, an early modern play (by John Ford) about incest. And it kinda makes you root for the brother and sister to be able to be together. If you ever get a chance, I recommend it–but not for the kids, not until they’re much older.

    Anyway, great post! I enjoy your blog. 🙂

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