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PostPosted: Thu Mar 15, 2007 8:26 pm 
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Germany's courts are currently dealing with the case of a brother and sister who are in love with each other, live together and have four children.

In Germany, and incestuous relationship, even among consenting adults, is a criminal offense. The couple are fighting for this law, which dates from the 19th century, to be changed.

Apparently, in a number of European countries, this is different, and such a relationship is not punishable by law. Still, certain restrictions seem to apply in most places. (More info here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6424337.stm )

Quote:
Couple stand by forbidden love
By Tristana Moore
BBC News, Berlin


At their home in Leipzig, Patrick Stuebing and Susan Karolewski are in the kitchen, playing with a young toddler.
They share a small flat in an east German tower block on the outskirts of the city. It looks like an ordinary family scene, but Patrick is Susan's brother and they are lovers.

"Many people see it as a crime, but we've done nothing wrong," said Patrick, an unemployed locksmith.

"We are like normal lovers. We want to have a family. Our whole family broke apart when we were younger, and after that happened, Susan and I were brought closer together," he said.

Patrick, who is 30 years old, was adopted and, as a child, he lived in Potsdam.

He did not meet his mother and biological family until he was 23. He travelled to Leipzig with a friend in 2000, determined to make contact with his other relatives.

He met his sister Susan for the first time, and according to the couple, after their mother died, they fell in love.

"When I was younger, I didn't know that I had a brother. I met Patrick and I was so surprised," said Susan, who is 22.

She says she does not feel guilty about their relationship.

"I hope this law will be overturned," Susan said.

"I just want to live with my family, and be left alone by the authorities and by the courts," she went on, in a hardly audible voice.


Patrick and Susan have been living together for the last six years, and they now have four children.

The authorities placed their first son, Eric, in the care of a foster family, and two other children were also placed in care.

"Our children are with foster parents. We talk to them as often as possible, but the authorities have taken away so much from us," said Susan.

"We only have our little daughter, Sofia, who is living with us," she said.


All but one of the couple's children have been taken into care

Incest is a criminal offence in Germany. Patrick Stuebing has already served a two-year sentence for committing incest and there is another jail term looming if paragraph 173 of the legal code is not overturned.

The couple's lawyer, Endrik Wilhelm, has lodged an appeal with Germany's highest judicial body, the federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, in order to overturn the country's ban on incest.

"Under Germany's criminal code, which dates back to 1871, it is a crime for close relatives to have sex and it's punishable by up to three years in prison. This law is out of date and it breaches the couple's civil rights," Dr Wilhelm said.

"Why are disabled parents allowed to have children, or people with hereditary diseases or women over 40? No-one says that is a crime.

"This couple are not harming anyone. It is discrimination. And besides, we must not forget that every child is so valuable," said Dr Wilhelm.

The couple's case is controversial and it has prompted a heated debate in the media.

"We need this law against incest in Germany and in the whole of Europe," said Professor Juergen Kunze, a geneticist at Berlin's Charite Hospital.

"It is based on long traditions in Western societies, and the law is here for a good reason," said Prof Kunze.

"Medical research has shown that there is a higher risk of genetic abnormalities when close relatives have a child together. When siblings have children, there is a 50% chance that the child will be disabled," he said.

Patrick and Susan say they have no other choice but to fight the current law.

"I have read that some doctors claim that children born to siblings could be disabled, but what about disabled parents who have children, or older parents?" asked Patrick.

"People have said that our children are disabled, but that is wrong. They are not disabled," said Patrick.

"Eric, our eldest child, has epilepsy, but he was born two months premature, he also has learning difficulties. Our other daughter, Sarah, has special needs," Patrick said.


The couple claim they have received a lot of support from friends and neighbours.

"When we go out to the supermarket, people recognise us and many have told us that they support our legal challenge," said Patrick.

"We would like society to recognise us, as any other normal couple," he said.

In 2004, Patrick voluntarily underwent a vasectomy.

"It's legal for the couple to live together, and to share a bed. But they are breaking the law once they have sex. If there are no more children, then who will be able to prove that they are a couple?" asked their lawyer.

Dr Wilhelm said a ruling was expected in the next few months.

"We've already heard that the vice-president of the Constitutional Court said that there will be a 'fundamental discussion' about this issue in Germany," said Dr Wilhelm.

"Many criminal law experts say that we are right and I'm confident that my clients will win their case. The law against incest is based on very old moral principles. The law was abolished in France, it's about time it should be scrapped here in Germany as well."


Personally, my first reaction to the idea of incestuous couples is "ewww".
But then I think, why not? Isn't it perfectly possible that two people should be really in love even though they are closely related? Esp if they only meet as grown-ups.
So, I don't know what to think about this.

Apparently, two of their four children are handicapped, so that would be reason for me to say that such a couple should try not to produce children. But they can still have sex, can't they? They aren't harming anyone, so why should it be wrong?
And, yet, the "eww"-factor remains.

So I thought I ask what other people think.
Should incestuous relationships be legal?
And, independently of legal issues, in your opinion, is resentment of incest a somehow natural response or is it the result of ingrained stuffy old morals that should long have given way to more enlightened and emancipated views?

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 15, 2007 9:00 pm 
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I think it makes sense to legally discourage the coupling of siblings because of the greater risk of genetic abnormalities. So apart from other considerations, that alone is enough to keep the law on the books, imo.

I don't know what to say about the rest of it. It seems unnatural to me. Do animal tribes interbreed, or do they naturally try to keep a large gene pool? If they inbreed, does that also result in genetic abnormalities?

I've always associated the idea of incest with parent-child activity, but I guess that would be more an issue of child abuse.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2007 1:30 am 
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Hey, Hobby!

I just got wrapped up in a conversation with nel/tp on B77 in the religion thread where the issue was peripherally about this same article. So I am a bit petered out from posting about it, but I'll repeat some of what I said over there.

I do think that there are grounds for our prohibitions against incest, and I was focused on what those grounds would be and why they would count when I first entered the discussion over there. But as we talked further about incest as such (as opposed to the grounds for laws in general in the U.S.), a different perspective fell into place for me.

The revulsion of western societies for incest is not without objective reasoning, I think. That is, it's not just an emotional response, or an "ick" factor as it's being called on B77. But it's also true that the incest prohibition is not universal; and where it exists it is weaker in some societies than others. Jewel brought up a fact which I did not know, namely that half the states in the U.S. allow marriage between first cousins. I think there are a lot of factors that enter into this equation of how the laws will address marriage between close relatives, and most of them are not emotional factors, imo.

In the particular case in Germany it strikes me that the girl seems to have been a minor when the sexual relation began, and I think this makes the whole thing a bit weird and not just about incest. It's not clear to me at all that these are two people in love who are being persecuted by the state, but possibly more about sexual predation.

Anyway, I'll be curious to hear the opinion of our denizens about this case.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2007 1:40 am 
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Quote:
In the particular case in Germany it strikes me that the girl seems to have been a minor when the sexual relation began, and I think this makes the whole thing a bit weird and not just about incest.


Yes, I noted that as well. But was she a minor under German law? Even if not, the fact that they started living together when he was 24 and she was just 16 is very telling. As is the fact that they knew they were brother and sister when the relationship started.

I could imagine a very rare situation where a relationship between very close family members would not seem "wrong" to me. This is, however, very definitely is not it.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2007 2:54 am 
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Quote:
But was she a minor under German law?


Yes, I believe so, Voronwë, because she was not tried as an adult.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2007 4:31 am 
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Unfortunately this whole thing has a scapegoat atmosphere written all over it. They are using these two people as a means of fighting for and against a law. Irealize this is often the case, but it seems somewhat unfair to me.
Specifically in this case I think it mostly a question of a messed up childhood/lifestyle that could have been dealt with in a different manner other than a criminal proceeding.
On a larger scale, we each set the standards for moral conduct in our societies and incest in most cases is well beyond those standards.
Long ago it was common for kings to marry close relatives to keep the bloodline pure. Today we know the harmful side effects to such close "breeding".
I don't have all the facts at my disposal, but I am sure this is a psychological flaw in the persons involved. Some things are just wrong in most circumstances and this is one of them.
Having said that, I don't think these people are any more criminal than an insane person.
They need help, incest should be strongly discouraged, but this is more of a sickness than a crime.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2007 4:37 am 
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Quote:
this is more of a sickness than a crime


I'm inclined to agree, Master Holbytla.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2007 5:00 am 
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I've gone through this on two boards now, so you'll excuse me if I use my post from TORC:

I ask two things when faced with an issue like this:

Firstly, is the danger posed by the behaviour in question serious enough to justify using the limited resources of the police and courts to stop?

Secondly, is the danger posed by the behaviour (or repeated instances of it) serious enough to jail people, depriving them of their income, putting them in personal danger and breaking up their families?

On these two grounds, I’m inclined to go with no. Banning incest doesn’t seem to be worth it.

I also add this part about the risk of genetic diseases:

How far do we take protecting unborn children from harm? Should alcoholic mothers be stopped from having children? Should couples be forced to undergo genetic testing before they can marry?

I like the law to be, in all cases, certain and consistent.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2007 6:10 am 
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Whereas the reality the law is trying to regulate is, in all cases, uncertain and inconsistent.

Making laws involves drawing lines, and not always in perfectly rational places; but if some things are to be legal, and some things illegal, then there has to be a line between. And if the standard is to be useful, so that ordinary people can undertsnad it and shape their actions accordingly, then a certain amount of arbitrariness can't be avoided.

I would draw the line this side of incest, of any kind. Bad families can be pits of exploitation and cruelty. I don't think we should give any degree of sanction to that.

Western cultures don't allow a man who has fallen in love with a second woman to marry her polygamously, either, and that's realistically far less harmful than the possibilities inherent in incest (and a far more common situation).

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2007 6:16 am 
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Prim wrote:
Western cultures don't allow a man who has fallen in love with a second woman to marry her polygamously, either


But do we jail a man who does, or simply not recognise his marriage as valid?


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2007 6:17 am 
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We jail him, actually. Or we can.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2007 6:26 am 
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Bigamy is a crime, but simply having a relationship with multiple women isn't in any common law jurisdiction as far as I know.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2007 6:34 am 
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But incest is different; it's a relationship whose existence can cause serious harm, to the participants and to any possible offspring. Father-daughter incest is common and horrible, and it should be criminal.

My point was more that the law does draw lines; marriage is okay here but not here. Relationships are okay here but not here. Sex is okay here but not here. I realize those lines have moved around a lot of late, and much of the motion I approve of—where self-determining, fully consenting adults are concerned—but I don't think I can bend this far.

Some of the same arguments mustered on the side of incest in this case are also used by pederasts. "But it's love, and love is never wrong!" See NAMBLA, if you can stomach it.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2007 6:46 am 
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It isn't just whether incest is acceptable, but whether it is worth prosecuting people over it. I can think of many people who should not marry for a whole range of reasons, but no really good argument for the state to prevent it.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2007 9:32 am 
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A crucial point here is that the couple did not grow up together. Now, they knew they were brother and sister when they fell in love (benefit of the doubt here), but what if they didn't? Lets say two children seperated at birth meet and fall in love without ever knowing their relationship. Is it still a crime? What, practically speaking, is the difference? The upshot is the same.

Of course you could do like Túrin and throw yourself on your sword, after having a friendly chat with it first. And they think incest is wierd...

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2007 1:19 pm 
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If it were only a genetics issue, adoptive and step-siblings would be permitted to marry, no? Or step-parents and children? The latter may sound icky, but consider a trophy wife in her 20s and an adult child of the father in his 20s as well...

The age of consent in Germany is 16, I believe, but the age of majority 18. Thus, only the incest law is relevant, but since the woman was not an adult, she had to be treated under the juvenile system.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2007 2:12 pm 
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Alatar wrote:
A crucial point here is that the couple did not grow up together. Now, they knew they were brother and sister when they fell in love (benefit of the doubt here), but what if they didn't? Lets say two children seperated at birth meet and fall in love without ever knowing their relationship. Is it still a crime? What, practically speaking, is the difference? The upshot is the same.


That's exactly the situation that I was thinking of above when I mentioned that there would rare situations where I would not consider incest to be "wrong". You're right; there is no practical difference, in terms of the possible harm to off-spring. But there is a world of difference in intent. And in the legal world, that can be a critical difference. It depends on whether incest is defined as a "specific intent" crime or a "strict liability" crime. I can't see how you can hold someone criminally liable for having a relationship with someone that they had no idea was their sibling, though.

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Of course you could do like Túrin and throw yourself on your sword, after having a friendly chat with it first.


:rotfl: (That almost made me spit my tea out on my keyboard.)

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2007 4:37 pm 
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I bet that sword had a sharp tongue.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2007 10:58 pm 
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Thanks for the answers, all. :)

Jny, I haven't seen the thread on b77 (so I'm afraid I don't fully understand what you're referring to in your post above), but I cross-posted this on TORC, so, LordM, thanks for posting in both places. :)

I think I agree a bit with most things said in here. :D

I thought your point was very convincing, LordM - it certainly seems a lot of trouble and expense to persecute something that doesn't really hurt anyone (with the possible exception of children from such a relationship, which makes the whole thing difficult).
In this case, the guy has made sure there won't be any more kids, so that makes the matter entirely between him and her, I guess. He has already served a term in prison, and the case is further mitigated by the fact that they didn't know each other before they were adults, so I'd say that as it's not likely anyone is harmed and that there is a possibility the love is real, we shouldn't penalise this particular couple.
(Although I agree with Ax that given the history of the two and the family it's likely that there's something involved that would be better treated by counselling, I think we can't tell either way and so should give them the benefit of a doubt and accept that the love may be real.)

But that doesn't meant that all laws against incest should be scrapped. I agree with Voronwë (if I understand you correctly), that it depends on the circumstances of the case. A parent starting to hit on a child once it becomes a grown-up seems quite a different thing from two people falling in love and only finding out later they are siblings, for example.

I do think that some rules need to be in place because of the difficult situation this places any possible offspring in - like Cerin said, this should be a prime consideration for the legal aspects of the questions.

The emotional aspects are more difficult, I think.
Jny, I agree that resentment of incest is based on objective reasons. I could imagine that early societies observed that the result of such unions often were handicapped children, and concluded that this was something that wasn't meant to be, which then developed into a strong emotional response against the relationship itself.

Of course, there have been societies which don't disallow, or even encourage, certain forms of what we'd consider incest - but I tcould imagine that what we have in these cases is other considerations (things like 'blood purity') gaining precedence over considerations of producing healthy offspring - I do believe that it is possible for societies to develop such views.

But I don't know for sure that such genetic considerations are at the basis of our dislike of incestuous relationships, and I am wondering if there isn't a possibility that this is in some way a parallel to reactions to homosexual relationships: for many people there is an eww-factor in homosexual relationships, but probably everybody here would say that such a reaction is just a sign of a backward moral value system that is just too ingrained to have been superseded by more enlightened views, as it should be.
So, how can we know that it's not the same with an "eww"-reaction to a love-affair between brother and sister?

I thought Prim made a good point in that we have to draw a line somewhere.
But, still - how do we know where the line is? Esp if we remember that not long ago the line would have been drawn to exclude homosexuality as well?

The more I think about it, the more I'm inclined to think that as long as the relationship is based on mutual consent and both partners can be said to be of consenting capability (something that would exclude the relationhips of pederasts from being validated as 'love', I think), we don't really have anything to base our negative responses on except age-old habitual thinking.

Though I shouldn't mind if someone convinced me of the contrary. :D

(Prim, what's NAMBLA?)

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2007 11:07 pm 
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TH wrote:
what's NAMBLA?


The North American Man-Boy Love Association, which is a paedophile rights group.


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