By Bart Gingerich (@BJGingerich)
In a recent interview by Huffington Post Live, English actor Jeremy Irons was asked about same-sex marriage in England and America. Known more for his Shakespearean roles than his moral views, Irons commented, “It seems to me that now they’re fighting for the name. I worry that it means somehow we debase, or we change, what marriage is. I just worry about that.”
An active local politician and once a major donor for the Labour Party (he was one of their biggest private donors in 1998), Irons’ musings did not spring from a robust religious morality, but rather a concern for philosophical limits. After all, he seemed fine with civil unions and homosexual activity itself, wishing everyone who lives together “the best of luck in the world, because it’s fantastic.” However, he shrewdly observed that tax-breaks could provide an incentive for men to marry their adult sons or women their adult daughters.
“Could a father not marry his son?” asked Irons.
“Well, there are laws against incest,” said the host.
“It’s not incest between men,” Irons replied. “Incest is there to protect us from inbreeding, but men don’t breed.”
One could pass on his estate without death taxes. The host contested, “No, that sounds like a total red herring. I’m sure that incest law would still cover same-sex marriages.”
Irons challenged, “Really? Why?”
“Because I don’t think that incest law is only justified on the basis of the consequences of procreation. I think there’s also a moral approbation that’s associated with incest,” the host answered.
Irons later retorted, “I think the lawyers are going to have a field day with same-sex marriage.”
The implications are indeed myriad. Since we as Anglo-American peoples have removed moral approbation from so many sexual activities–basing all morality on consent–why should we have “moral approbation” against mutually-consented incest? Since consequentialist (ends justify the means) ethics have taken over political debates, heterosexual incest can be condemned and forbidden because of genetic aberrations, but not homosexual incest, since there is no procreation (which, as LGBT activists insist, does not qualify as a characteristic of marriage anyway). If homosexual marriage is okay, why isn’t incest? Our society may have bad sentiments about it now, but what does that matter if marriage is but a malleable cultural construct? Who are you, incestophobe, to impose your moral values on me?
What brave new world have we entered after the stripping away of traditional sexual and political limits? The taboo against homosexual marriage seems to have been around as long as prohibitions against incest. Irons is more worried about the legal labyrinth; moral philosophers see much larger ramifications