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August 4, 2003

Gay marriage
Posted by Teresa at 08:02 PM *

The subject of gay marriage is currently getting a workout all over the bloggy world.

The Pope’s denounced it, which by me matters about as much as his recent addition of five new Mysteries to be said on the Rosary every Thursday. I figure that if the OHC&A Church isn’t ready to recognize gay marriage, it doesn’t have to. Lord knows there are plenty of other marriages it doesn’t recognize; mine, for instance. And if you personally aren’t in favor of marrying gays, don’t marry one. (I’m of the school that thinks that someone else’s gender preferences are only your business if you’re thinking of making a pass at them. If not, not.)

Meanwhile, Dubya has also denounced gay marriage. And get this: he wants to “codify”, via a constitutional amendment, the principle that marriage is by definition a union between one man and one woman. Which can’t be right, since that would mean that my great-great-grandparents weren’t married, or anyway that my great-great-grandfather wasn’t married to his plural wives, which he most certainly was.

But I’m sure ol’ Georgie Boy didn’t think that through. What he’s supposedly on about here is the horrid possibility that persons of the same sex might marry each other, as has been deemed legal in Canada.

I think he’s going about this all wrong. The Constitution just isn’t the place for that kind of thing. If you’re going to specify that marriage is only a cross-gender phenomenon, one man one woman, you’re going to have to spell out what that means; and isn’t that going to look nice, in amongst the provisions of that hitherto dignified document? Next thing you know, people won’t be wanting their kids to read the Constitution on account of its racy passages.

On top of that, Georgie’s got one of his henchmen out there explaining that he’s just trying to to protect “the sanctity of marriage”. Dead wrong. Matters of sanctity are definitely not within the Constitution’s bailiwick. If Dubya wants to get something sanctified, he should talk to the Pope.

But what I really think is that Bush & Co. are turning gay marriage into another one of those pointless flustering non-issues like flag-burning, or prayer in the schools, that get everyone excited but make zero difference. These non-issues are deployed in order to soak up any additional brainpower the American people might otherwise be tempted to spend on issues like the economy, or what became of those WMDs. It’ll be good for months and months of content-free fuss and botheration.

We aren’t going to draft and ratify a full-scale amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, saying that only cross-gender marriages count. Neither are we going to throw up our hands, say “Oh well, if Canada’s going to do it, we’d better follow along,” declare gay marriage legal in all fifty states, and accept that for a while we’re going to be up to our ears in matching tuxedos and dishes of adorable little triangular pink mints.

It’s a shame, really. All those weddings would be a lot of fun.

But it’s not going to happen. This fuss about banning gay marriage via constitutional amendment is just a piece of handwaving flapdoodle, specially cooked up for the election season. If it weren’t for that, the Republicans wouldn’t give a damn either way. They have a history of getting along just fine with gays who are sufficiently rich, powerful, and well-connected. It’s the poor ones they can’t stand.

Comments on Gay marriage:
#1 ::: Berni ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2003, 09:26 PM:

I personally got very excited at the addition of the luminous mysteries to the rosary. I never understood why there was a gap between the finding in the Temple and the agony in the garden. The new mysteries fit in quite nicely.

#2 ::: Neil Rest ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2003, 09:27 PM:

To my surprise, I think you're vitally mistaken on an important point.
Strategically, this is not a "pointless flustering non-issue". The payoff to the vital "Christian right" demographic is pandering to their sexual hysteria. They're getting screwed at least as badly as the rest of us on everything substantive, but as long as a wacko who has vowed to eradicate vibrators from Georgia keeps getting renominated for higher Federal judgeships, they consider themselves paid off.
This particular bit of posturing is emptier than many of the others. In the unlikely event it got near passage, it wouldn't be for years. But it's just as much a part of it.

#3 ::: Josh ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2003, 09:46 PM:

Why would you find it surprising that Bush would be against polygamy, just as he's against gay marriage? I'm not seeing the inconsistency here.

#4 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2003, 10:01 PM:

Luminous mysteries? Those oughta come with glow-in-the-dark beads.

What gets me is Bush's obvious disrespect for legal principle. Sure, I wanna ban gay marriage; have the lawyers find me a way to do it. I wanna conquer Iraq; I'm sure some WMDs will show up after the fact.

#5 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2003, 10:05 PM:

I don't know, but Howard Dean was on Larry King tonight and Larry asked the question and pursued it with several follow-ups. The Governor says that the states ought to get to decide how they want to implement it. Dean comes down on the side of civil unions, stipulating that marriage is a religious rite and the government has no buisness telling rigligions whom they should marry. But he feels definitely that those civil unions should convey all the rights as marriage. Sounds sort of like a way to have his cake and eat it too, but I'll take it.

MKK

#6 ::: Dennis Slater ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2003, 11:23 PM:

Your pointless flustering point is well taken. It is probably exactly that. That is what happens when politicians start reading poll results. We are seeing the confluence of bad political advice, President Bush's personal beliefs, and the need to throw some political meat to the more radical wing of the Republican party. And I think that this is an issue some may lie to a pollster about so the President may need to tread lightly here in my opinion.

I think that we have reached a point in our society where if two people of the same sex want to have the state bless their union with a piece of paper they should be able to do that without anyone sticking their nose into it. I cannot conceive of a constitutional amendment ever getting off the ground. It is too late for that. 10-15 years ago it may have succeeded, but then again gay marriage wasn't an issue then.

All the money spent on dresses, tux rentals, flowers, and honeymoons would certainly give the economy a needed boost. I wonder where the execs at Hallmark and FTD stand on gay marriages?

My only concern with gay marriages is where will the lower legal age limit on getting married be set. Currently some states allow people as young as 16 to get married without parental consent. Society seems to frown on 40 year old men marrying 16 year old girls. In my small town we had a 42 old priest run away with and legally married a 16 old girl. They were happily married with 3 kids the last I heard, but the town was ready to lynch the priest if they could have found him at the time. Would there be rioting in the streets if a 40 year old man married a 16 year old boy? I would bet that if there is national legalization of gay marriages in the US then the age of consent would be raised to at least 18 in all states.

Another possible issue someone could have with legalizing gay marriages is an economic one - what would be the effects on benefits from work, heathcare and life insurance, and that sort of thing? I am sure someone has done a study about the effects of gay marriages on all that. I'll have to go look around for some information on it sometime.

The domino-effect people might be thinking that if gay marriages are legalized then legalization sister-brother, sister-sister, father-daughter, mother-son, older man-young boy, multiple parners, etc., marriages might be next. Is this farfetched? Is it possible to make a non-moral argument (non-moral = morals do not apply) for these marriages similar to the one made for gay marriages? I have no idea if these things are on anyone's political agenda. Of course, the idea of two guys with heavy beards getting married was not on the societal radar twenty years ago either.

#7 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2003, 11:25 PM:

Mary Kay, it sounds legit to me. There are things the state can grant, and there are things religions can grant. Dean's in favor of letting gays have the former, and letting the different religions sort out the latter to their own satisfaction.

#8 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2003, 11:53 PM:

I agree with Dean on this topic too. Freedom of religion is a critical quality of life issue; it would be just as wrong for the state to attempt to enforce gay marriage on religious institutions as it is for the churches to try to keep the government from sanctioning them.

Dennis, it may interest you to know that The Economist, by no means a liberal publication, took a position in favor of same-sex marriage on purely economic grounds, some years back (I think during the 1992 election). They felt it would help promote economic stability.

But Dennis, just when I think "Finally! A Dennis Slater post that I can mostly agree with!" you have to go all Santorum on us, with this crap about incest being next. It's nonsense, and you're smart enough to know it's nonsense, and therefore you must be being disingenuous. This is a troll tactic. Cut it out.

On multiple partners, I think (hope) you may be right. I know some people happily involved in triples and line-marriages (A is married to B is married to C, but no particular relationship (beyond friends) between A and C etc.). I see nothing wrong with this.

One of the worst inventions of the 20th century, in my opinion, was the nuclear family. It was a stupid idea, and I'm glad to see it fade. As people live longer and longer and have fewer children, I hope to be around to see the return of the traditional family -- that is, grandparents very much on the scene, cousins close as siblings.

Group families perform many of the same functions; in fact, kids raised on communes have been shown to grow into extraordinarily happy and well-adjusted adults.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2003, 11:54 PM:

Dennis, it'd pretty much have to be worked out on a state-by-state basis, just like our current set of marriage laws. States where sixteen-year-olds can get married will have to think about whether that's a good idea for anyone, boys or girls.

For a while it'll probably be like the era of the Las Vegas wedding and Reno divorce. Nevada had the most lenient laws in the country, and the rest of the states were obliged to acknowledge the results.

I can see no reason whatsoever for the legitimization of gay marriages to lead to the legitimization of incestuous, polygamous, or, I dunno, inter-species unions. Previously, a father and son couldn't get married because they were both male, and because it would be incestuous. Now they can't get married because it would be incestuous. The laws against bigamy and polygamy will keep a man who's already married to one man from contracting a marriage with another man. The laws against bestiality will remain in place no matter what gender the participants are.

Somehow this reminds me of one of my favorite stories, from back in the days when the British Empire sometimes stashed well-connected remittance men in obscure diplomatic posts -- in this case, Uruguay. The guy shows up for some formal reception completely plowed. He wanders in, spots someone in a long red gown, bows, and says "Madame, may I have this dance?"

"No, you may not, for three reasons," says the person.

"First, you are drunk. Second, they are playing the national anthem. And third, I am the Archbishop of Montevideo."

#10 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2003, 11:59 PM:

What's wrong with inter-species? While I wouldn't marry a Roswell Gray myself (way too skinny, though the heads are sort of cute), I defend the right of anyone who wants to to do so.

Non-sentient non-humans: I think we can just keep those laws for a while (like until I'm dead and rotted, so I can't spin in my grave).

#11 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 12:42 AM:

You can argue against incest from grounds other than religious morals, however, which in my opinion makes it a whole different kettle of fish. Even if, say, the daughter in a father/daughter hookup were a consenting adult, one could argue that such marriages should be banned as the father has a substantial authority position from which to exert pressure and coercion (both subtly and not so much so), and therefore to ensure consent is fully informed and not unduly influenced, incest should be banned. And, barring twins, one could probably make the same argument for marriage between siblings.

Besides which, if allowing any adult to marry any other non-related, non-married adult of the opposite gender is not a step on the slippery slope, why would same-sex marriages be one?

#12 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 02:09 AM:

More Bush hypocrisy? I rather doubt if the pushes his marrige views at the royal family of Saudi Arabia etc.

#13 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 02:19 AM:

This all reminds me, though, of the pressure the Church puts on Catholic politicians to support the Church's position on ab*rt**n, and in some places d*v*rc* and b*rth c*ntr*l. And look how well all of that's worked out!

Heck, if the Church exerted as much pressure to get politicians to abolish the death penalty -- also a moral issue the Pope feels strongly about -- there'd still be executions in Texas and Florida and several other states.

Xopher, I agree about the nuclear family, but one of the things that killed the traditional multi-generational family is the American penchant for moving around, and this has to do with employment. My family was like you describe -- grandparents lived with us (or vice-versa actually) and cousins nearby -- until the job situation got tight. My step-grandfather was transferred by his company to Texas, my aunts and uncles followed suit (cousins in tow) in the early 1960s when they heard there were good jobs to be had in the Houston area, and by the time I was 12 we were left alone in Pennsylvania. Even my brother moved to Texas after he got out of the Navy.

Dennis, in all the states of the U.S. a marriage of a person younger than 18 requires parental consent, no matter how old the spouse-to-be is -- except in Nebraska where the age is 19, and Puerto Rico (if you want to include it), where it's 21. See http://www.law.cornell.edu/topics/Table_Marriage.htm
In some cases, the lower limit can be waived "under special circumstances", such as if pregnancy is involved; this is unlikely to happen in a gay marriage.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, just a reference librarian who gets a lot of questions about such things.)

Speaking of lawyers, divorce lawyers are probably eager to see gay marriages legalized, on the theory that more marriages = more divorces.

#14 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 04:47 AM:

If you're interested, Dennis, I can recommend a book Equality for Same-sex Couples by Yuval Merin. It's about the legal recognition of same sex partnerships in Europe and North America. As you are probably aware, civil registration of same-sex partnerships has a much longer history in Europe: indeed, within the next few years, all the EU countries will be legally required to provide a form of registered partnership that will cover pensions and tax for same-sex couples as well as mixed-sex couples. Merin is covering a lot of issues, not just the tax, pensions, and other financial benefits of marriage, but he does go in to the economic effects of same-sex legal registered partnership.

One point he makes is that same-sex marriage only seems to become an option when economic equality for the sexes becomes an option. Same-sex marriage (or partnership, whatever you choose to call it) seems to follow economic equality for the sexes: the Scandinavian countries, where your gender makes virtually no economic difference to your life, were also the first to implement same-sex marriage.

Where you have a striking economic difference between women and men, it becomes less likely that same-sex marriage will be seriously considered, because the gender roles in marriage will be more strongly established. He suggests this as a reason why the US will not seriously consider same-sex marriage - the religious argument is a public one, the underlying reason that where considerable and entrenched economic differences exist between the sexes, there is likely to be far less public acceptance of the idea that what two men or two women have could be called a marriage.

It's an interesting and informative book (acknowledging a debt to the late John Boswell) but I think that was possibly the most interesting single point in it.

#15 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 08:14 AM:

The late John Boswell's book Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, documenting ancient and medieval church ceremonies of blessing for same-sex partnerships is a bit mind-boggling. Perhaps not quite up there with William Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain, but close. In at least one place, some heterosexual couples chose the partnership ceremony instead of the marriage ceremony, because it let the woman keep her property.

#16 ::: Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 10:57 AM:

Some folks around here may be familiar with The Rutherford Institute, a Christian legal organization which is perhaps best known for its part in foisting Paula Jones on an unsuspecting public. As for me, I was unaware of that bit of Rutherford history at first; I first became aware of them through a series of PSAs they run on WRAS-FM, the college radio station that I listen to most of the time.

In these PSAs, John Whitehead, Rutherford's founder, narrates a thumbnail view of some legal case, and outlines the Constitutional basis for the issue under discussion. Usually these are Bill of Rights issues, although they did use the 14th Amendment for the "Racial Profiling" PSA. My personal favorite is a recent First Amendment PSA, the highlight of which is Mr. Whitehead -- who has a distinct necktie-and-crewcut accent -- quoting Bob Marley's "Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights" in discussing the Freedom of Expression implications of a Montana teenager's hair style (dreads, of course).

Anyway, to drag this back on topic, I was noodling around on their web site recently, and came across their year-end review of the Supreme Court's decisions, in which they review the Lawrence v. Texas decision in what seems to me to be a very favorable light. At the same time, I noticed an online poll (subsequently replaced by one concerning the PATRIOT act) on the subject of gay marriage. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the poll was running 2 to 1 in favor. Admitedly, the Rutherford Institute seems to be something of an odd bird in the world of Conservative Christian legal foundations, but I still can't help but think of it as a good sign.

#17 ::: Dave Slusher ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 11:02 AM:

I keep saying over and over how inconsistent it is to target gay marriages as an attack on the sanctity of marriage while remaining silent on the issue of these stupid goddamn "lets get married on TV" game shows. How two gay people committing their lives to each other has anything to do with marriage as an institution, I do not understand. Going on TV and competing with people to get married and win money, that I clearly see how it affects the sanctity of marriage.

There was no church involvement in my marriage either. We were married in a courthouse by a judge, because neither of us believes in God and didn't want our lives together to begin with us lying and pretending that we care about the blessing of a higher power on our union. I too have an unsanctified marriage, a "civil union." That's exactly how I want it.

#18 ::: Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 11:13 AM:

therefore to ensure consent is fully informed and not unduly influenced

Wouldn't it be nice if the government could protect us from making unduly influenced bad decisions?

Apparently, you've never experienced the undue influence of a non-relative. Never known anyone who cut all ties with family and friends after meeting this guy who moved her to another state and, it turns out, beat her black and blue every weekend, who she wouldn't leave. It doesn't take a father to unduly influence a daughter. Anybody can do it if the daughter is sufficiently pliant. That's not a very good argument against incest.

The reality is that our society, and not any kind of natural law or common sense or logical reason, determines what is considered acceptable sexual practice. As our society moves toward acceptance of gays, gay marriage becomes acceptable. Not because it is inherently right, but because society has shifted in that direction. Someone commented here about the 40 year old man and the 16 year old girl getting married. It wasn't that long ago that this found greater acceptance in some segments of our society. Only in the last 40 years or so, with the equally arbitrary establishment of the legal age at 18 (apparently because that's when you finish school) has 14, 15, and 16 year olds getting married been deemed somehow wrong. In the hills of Tennessee a century ago, it was not uncommon for a 16 year old girl to get married. Less common for a 16 year old boy to get married, which means that 16 year old girl was marrying older men. My own grandmother (born 1897) married young. And men tended to go through several wives because of high birthing fatalities. My wife's research into her family has shown that most of her male relatives born before 1850 had two and sometimes three wives due to deaths from various causes. Those wives were often too young to marry by our standards, but not by the standards of the time. And let's not forget the man-boy relationships of ancient Greece and more modern Masai cultures - perfectly acceptable within that society and time.

Conservatives have argued that gay marriage is a slippery slope, and in some ways it is, because it is a concrete example of a perceived "loosening" of society's perception of what is correct and incorrect behavior. Gay marriage is a slippery slope - it is your perception that defines whether sliding down it is a good or a bad thing. I say let's slap on some skis and go for a ride. Outlawing heterosexual polygamy is just as arbitrary as outlawing gay marriage. It's just as arbitrary as outlawing the marriage of people under the age of 16 or 18 or whatever. It's just as arbitrary as saying you are too young to handle alcohol when you are 20 years and 364 days old, but everything is hunky-dory one day later. These are merely what our society says is acceptable. Conservatives fear what may one day become acceptable, which is what conservatives have always feared. We are human. We look for patterns and conspiracies.

I just find it difficult to believe our society will ever accept incest or bestiality, no matter how many gay and lesbian weddings we sanction. Gay marriage is a slippery slope, but incest and bestiality aren't at the bottom of it.

#19 ::: Dennis Slater ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 01:14 PM:

Lois:

Dennis, in all the states of the U.S. a marriage of a person younger than 18 requires parental consent, no matter how old the spouse-to-be is -- except in Nebraska where the age is 19, and Puerto Rico (if you want to include it), where it's 21. See http://www.law.cornell.edu/topics/Table_Marriage.htm

In some cases, the lower limit can be waived "under special circumstances", such as if pregnancy is involved; this is unlikely to happen in a gay marriage.

When I was searching for a good parental consent laws table like the one you provided, I got impatient and accepted what I thought was good information about individual states. I must have looked at the information backwards for the one state or two I checked and made the wrong assumptions. Thanks.

Speaking of lawyers, divorce lawyers are probably eager to see gay marriages legalized, on the theory that more marriages = more divorces.

No doubt. The real reason for the promotion of the legalization of gay marriages is exposed! LOL

Yon:

If you're interested, Dennis, I can recommend a book Equality for Same-sex Couples by Yuval Merin.

Thanks. Will put it on the list.

Where you have a striking economic difference between women and men, it becomes less likely that same-sex marriage will be seriously considered, because the gender roles in marriage will be more strongly established.

That is a very interesting point. Could you then conclude that the trend toward acceptance of same sex marriages in the US had its roots in the gender equality movement?

He suggests this as a reason why the US will not seriously consider same-sex marriage - the religious argument is a public one, the underlying reason that where considerable and entrenched economic differences exist between the sexes, there is likely to be far less public acceptance of the idea that what two men or two women have could be called a marriage.

I agree that the religious argument against same-sex marriages will always be a road block to their being legalized. My general feeling is that religion is playing a smaller and smaller part in our society in general and in people's everyday life every year. Therefore I think the religous roadblock to same-sex marriages is getting smaller every year and will be virtually non-existent in 10-20 years if not sooner. Those opposed to same-sex marriages probably can sense this same movement towards possible political irrelevancy and therefore want to codify their opposition, based on religious beliefs, to same-sex marriages before religious opposition to them dries up.

Xop:

On multiple partners, I think (hope) you may be right. I know some people happily involved in triples and line-marriages (A is married to B is married to C, but no particular relationship (beyond friends) between A and C etc.). I see nothing wrong with this.

I really don't either. I might draw the line at humans and, say, horses because I, personally, do not want to be in the same health insurance pool with a horse. *thinking* But there are humans in my health insurance pool that I wish weren't there as well so maybe I will have to come up with another reason.

But Dennis, just when I think "Finally! A Dennis Slater post that I can mostly agree with!" you have to go all Santorum on us, with this crap about incest being next. It's nonsense, and you're smart enough to know it's nonsense, and therefore you must be being disingenuous. This is a troll tactic. Cut it out.

It is certainly legitimate to bring up incestuous marriages up since the topic seems to be about marriage. And what I said isn't remotely similar to what Senator Santorum said or implied. He was talking about privacy not marriage I believe. http://www.andrewsullivan.com/main_article.php?artnum=20030422. Xop, old Chap, when I start posting things just to make you happy I will shoot myself if I had a gun. If you do not like what I posted, bite me.

#20 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 01:41 PM:

Den (or maybe Sla):

I'll certainly remember that you consider that legitimate. Next time you're talking about basketball I'll switch the topic to murder by talking about murdered basketball players. What an effortless way to derail a conversation!

But silly.

And DenSla, I was trying to find common ground. I never said or implied that you were making posts to make me happy. Gods forbid. I should have realized that agreeing with me, even by chance, would repel and nauseate you.

BTW, I'm against murder, Al Qaeda, and punching elderly ladies. I bet you are too, ha ha. /childish rant

#21 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 01:59 PM:

I don't see why gay marriage should be perceived as a loosening of standards. I mean, they're getting married. Settling down. Buying a house, getting a dog, joining the block association, maybe even having kids. Once you accept that they exist at all, marriage becomes the more conservative option.

#22 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 02:22 PM:

Teresa, I think it's the same sentiment that led some readers (back in the 1920s) to write angry letters to Time when they referred to a "Negro gentleman" as "Mr. So-and-so." The letter-writers were outraged that the term would be applied to a "Negro" -- they felt it should be reserved for, you know, real people.

Time stuck to its guns, but the point is that nothing changed about the title "Mr." except that it was applied more broadly than the readers expected. That one didn't even have the economic benefits that marriage confers.

I think the underlying sentiment is "But...but this is how we know we're better than them! You can't take away our false sense of superiority like that!" Well, we can and will. And they're not better than us. And they can bite me. :-)

#23 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 02:23 PM:

Dennis, gays are touchy about being casually grouped with people who have sex with little kids, family members, and animals. They don't see their sex lives as being so obviously and inherently depraved that social acceptance of them means throwing open the door to all other forms of depravity. It's a hot button.

#24 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 02:33 PM:

Teresa, thanks. I think Dennis already knew that, though.

And I do apologize for letting one of my hot buttons be pushed. I didn't quite realize that's what had happened, but you're clearly right.

#25 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 03:29 PM:

Dennis, I think you have a valid point that allowing gay marriage makes it more likely that other non-conventional arrangements will be legitimized, but it seems to me that you missed the important distinction between gay marriage (or overturning "deviant sex" prohibitions) and age-of-consent violations or bestiality that lies in the presence or absence of informed consent.

I agree that gay marriage might be a step down the slippery slope towards allowing various numbers of consenting adults of various genders to do what they like with each other. I don't see how that slope leads anywhere near letting people do unpleasant things to partners who are not in a position to object. Of course the questions of exactly who is capable of informed consent and when are messy, but they're orthogonal to issues of what consenting adults should or shouldn't be allowed to do.

#26 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 05:53 PM:

Allowing gays to marry makes a cut-off point, after which their entire life-style is no longer 'sinful.' If they can marry, they can only be censured for pre-marital sex and/or adultery.

#27 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 08:55 PM:

Tina, I totally agree with your main point, as I understand it (i.e., that you can make a strong case against incestuous marriage on the grounds of the potential for abuse of power), but I disagree that this argument is orthogonal in nature to religious moral arguments against incest.

On the contrary -- while I may disagree with the specific values and application of moral standards in any number of religions -- I believe that in general any moral system, including religious moral systems, is intended specifically to regulate and adjudicate issues of power, including in human relationships.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that that is their primary purpose.

-l.

#28 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 08:55 PM:

Xopher: While I wouldn't marry a Roswell Gray myself (way too skinny, though the heads are sort of cute), I defend the right of anyone who wants to to do so.

Everybody knows the Roswell Grays are dead and preserved in pickle jars, so that would be necrophilia, a major squick in most people's books.

Suddenly I'm thinking an apocryphal J. G. Ballard condensed novel, Saucer Crash.

#29 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 09:00 PM:

Ken, I was referring to the species, not the particular individuals.

And while I certainly would have pursued James Dean (sexiest man I can think of among the...formerly living) while he was alive, I wouldn't now.

#30 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 09:38 PM:

Alleluia! Fr. Gene Robinson has been confirmed as the first openly gay Episcopal bishop. I hope this bodes well for the upcoming vote on the blessing of same-sex unions.

#31 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 11:54 PM:

Yes! Rejoice!

#32 ::: Dennis Slater ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 01:25 AM:

Den (or maybe Sla):

I'll certainly remember that you consider that legitimate. Next time you're talking about basketball I'll switch the topic to murder by talking about murdered basketball players. What an effortless way to derail a conversation!

But silly.

And DenSla, I was trying to find common ground. I never said or implied that you were making posts to make me happy. Gods forbid. I should have realized that agreeing with me, even by chance, would repel and nauseate you.

BTW, I'm against murder, Al Qaeda, and punching elderly ladies. I bet you are too, ha ha. /childish rant

Xop: Bite me.

#33 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 02:24 AM:

Dennis, we don't say "Bite me" here, unless we're being funny.

#34 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 02:35 AM:

And by the way, Kip, that's a really good point.

#35 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 02:40 AM:

I'd have to disagree that religious mores exist primarily to help adjudicate power-over and power-between, but that's really another argument.

In this specific case, the point was: one can make religious arguments against homosexuality being wrong, but that's the only grounds I see people making them on, and we're not living (yet) in a theocracy. You can make non-religious arguments -- the power-over one is sociological in my case -- against incest, however, and that seems a reasonable thing to base laws on. Whether or not there are ALSO religious arguments against incest is not a factor; the fact that there are not solely such is.

#36 ::: Larry Lurex ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 09:52 AM:

Someone is kidding me aren't they? Vibrators illegal in Georgia? I wouldn't want to be in Georgia at any time near a single woman with PMS...

If I were a woman, I'd move.

#37 ::: des ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 11:12 AM:

In France, where ab la laefcite9 b is taken very seriously, Church weddings have no legal status and have to be supplemented by a civil ceremony.

In England we still have (Anglican) Bishops in the House of Lords, but the separation of church(es) and state sounds like a winner to me. Why don't you chaps give it a go and let us know how it works out?

#38 ::: Brian Ledford ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 12:16 PM:

Shouldn't the concerned be codifying the definition of man and woman before they bother with marriage? What sex is a transgendered individual? Their chromosomal sex? their declared/chosen/best guess given a binary choice sex? Does a gender reassignment void a marriage? Does the discovery of a mistaken sexual assignment void a marriage? Basically, if an XY male undergoes a gender reassignment, and identifies as female, whom is he allowed to marry? A woman [phenotypically [?] same sex but chromosomally opposite sex]? A man [to outside observers "traditional", but chromosomally same sex]?

#39 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 12:44 PM:

Wow, Brian, what a way to get an annulment out of the RCC! There are, I'm told, thousands of perfectly normal men walking around with XX chromosomes, completely unaware that there's anything unusual about them. They can reproduce, too, though they have only girl children.

There are also (again I'm told) a smaller number of normal women with XY chromosomes. Here the consequences are more tragic. A statistical quarter of their children will miscarry (I don't know if this is too early to notice or what), and they have twice as many boys as girls.

(Of course, most of these cases DO have observable somatic effects, but those are better known.)

SO, if you're married to one of these folks, even if you have children, you could presumably get an annulment based on con- (hmm, I need a word that means 'similarity in gender' the way 'consanguinity' means 'similarity in blood'...anybody?) con-whatever. And probably without paying the enormous fee someone like Alphonse D'Amato had to pay to get his annulment from his wife of [two-digit-number] years, with whom he had several children.

#40 ::: RachelK ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 01:01 PM:

Brian, the Supreme Court has already given tacit support to the point of view that chromosomes=legal sex, by refusing to hear a case. I think the case name was Littleton vs. Texas, but I'm not sure. It seems not to be possible to give URL's here, but try googling "Christine Littleton".

Basically, a post-operative transsexual woman, Christine Littleton, was married to a man for many years. When her husband died, the insurance company contested the settlement. They argued that, since her chromosomes had never changed, she was still legally male and the marriage had never existed. The courts ruled against Mrs. Littleton, and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, effectively allowing the ruling.

The ruling was patently ridiculous on many fronts. For example, how many people we know actually have chromosomes other than what their appearance would indicate? Really, we almost never know what is really in the other person's pants, much less what's in their nuclei. We just go with their gender presentation, and we don't doubt them, not unless they try to break the mold in some way, but by a purely chromosomal definition, many people who we think of as one way would 'actually' be another way.

The Supremes' refusal to hear the case means that different states can have different laws, for now, I think. But there is always that sword dangling above the head of any transsexual person who wants to get married.

#41 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 01:52 PM:

That's what I meant about having to spell out a lot of startling issues in this imaginary amendment.

Really, it's not going to happen. All you have to do is ask whether they mean gender presentation, chromosomal gender, genital configuration (modified or unmodified), or reproductive equipment, and the discussion will tie itself up in knots for years.

#42 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 02:36 PM:

If they are interested in law instead of dogma, yes, it will.

I would not myself take a bet on that just now.

#43 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 03:44 PM:

Xopher:

I believe that XY females and XX males are typically sterile (See: http://www.creighton.edu/~mwong/SRY.htm - mostly for the references or http://www.sinc.sunysb.edu/Class/bio300/HERMAPHRODITES.htm). Also DISCOVER Vol. 21 No. 12 (December 2000) it's interesting although it doesn't tell you a lot of details. (http://www.discover.com/recent_issue/index.html)

I think it shows that this is not a problem that people are going to be able to easily brush off--once we start trying to mandate who can and can not get married, there are going to be plenty of test cases showing up. After all, according to the Littleton ruling, an XY woman couldn't get legally married, yes?

#44 ::: Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 03:55 PM:

Vibrators illegal in Georgia?

Georgians are expected to do it the old fashioned way - an oversized cam and glass packs. That way the neighbors don't have to be disturbed by your moans of pleasure.

I can make this joke because I live in Tennessee, where we restrict out vibrator merchants to "those" neighborhoods. I wish I still had the links to the hilarious Letters to the Editor when one of "those" places tried to open a store in suburbia, just down the road from Fort God.

#45 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 08:40 PM:

Well, gays may not like getting lumped in along with incest and pedophilia, but aside from politics and sparing people's feelings, there's no reason not to. All of them are sexual practices with social and legal definitions that vary from region to region and are viewed as everything from perfectly normal to an abominable taboo.

Look at incest: If two twenty-year-olds, not blood related, decide to have sex and get married, that's fine and dandy in US society. If their widowed/divorced parents do the same, giving them the same parental unit above them? More problematic, but still no biggie. What if the younger couple is fifteen at the time of their parent's meeting? Twelve? Ten? Five? Pair up the kids in the Brady Bunch. If Greg and Marsha got married? What about Jan and Peter? Cindy and Bobby?

What about these possible marriages if Mike and Carol had gotten divorced the minute the series was canceled? That's a marriage of what, five years?

Or is incest blood-related, and despite the fact that cross-cousin marriages are normal in many parts of the world, are blood-cousins who, via anonymous adoption, link up and marry, guilty of incest? Or is that reserved for brothers and sisters?

Then there's pedophilia. Age of consent varies from 18 in the US to 16 in the UK, and if it's 14 or 12 elswhere? Why is it more acceptable under current US law for a 60 year old to marry a 16 year old in some states than an 18 year old to marry a 14 year old? Or is it only gradeschool kids and dirty old men? What if the old man has alzheimer's and the gradeschool kid initiates it?

We used to have anti-miscegenation laws in this country, and South Africa had similar ones until very recently.

As far as I'm concerned, the state has no business getting into marriage aside from allowing people to sign communal property and tax forms. Aside from that, marriage is a religious/social custom, and you can have it performed by anyone you and your spouse agree to. Priest, minister, ship's captain, village blacksmith, etc. All of them have long traditions and are perfectly valid if you and your social circle feel they are.

But I see no reason why heterosexual sex is a necessary prerequisite for filing joint tax returns.

#46 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 07:27 AM:

Kevin, regarding incest, I believe the point was made upthread that the taboo has more to do with the fact that it screws up the psychological/ interpersonal dynamics in a family, than with the biological component. In that context, the Brady Bunch argument doesn't matter all that much.

-l.

#47 ::: Oliver Morton ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 07:36 AM:

Coming to this late but just a note to Xopher's point about The Economist. "By no means a liberal publication" is a little off track. The Economist is a pure liberal publication of the nineteenth century, which went on believing many of the same things in the twentieth century and continues on into this one. It is liberal in that it is in favour of maximising individual freedoms within a defined and equitable legal context (there used to be long internal discussions about the degree to which this was "classical liberalism" rather than "libertarianism"). As in the 19th century, freedoms that stem from the owndership of property are particularly favoured.
IIRC (I worked there at the time) the paper (another quaint eccentricity/annoying self-indulgence: it styles itself a newspaper, not a magazine) argued for gay marriage on these liberal grounds, while quite possibly also making some economic points along the way. The same liberalism informed its recent cover story against terrorist tribunals, "Unjust, Unwise, unAmerican".

#48 ::: Kim ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 11:12 AM:

New mysteries added to the rosary? Geez, you leave the Catholic church for a few years and they throw extra rosary beads at you. Does this mean I can't give my old rosary to my god daughter on her confirmation because it won't have enough beads now?

I never get what business the government has in legislating morality. Bestiality and incest is one thing - the law needs to protect children and creatures that can't truly give consent. (Hm, what about pet psychics - can an animal give consent through a psychic?) But legislating civil marriage between consenting adults just seems to be none of the government's business to me. Neither does legislating sexual practices between consenting adults either (or singularly). The political hand-waving makes sense though - it's something I hadn't thought of. The sad thing is, many people will fall for it over and over again.

As far as I'm concerned, morality should be left to the churches, government should be purely secular. Laws should be there to protect us, not to reflect morality. There's no damage between consenting adults, regardless of number or gender as far as I'm concerned. I can see reconsidering the age of consent in many states as a result of allowing gay marriages - but honestly that wouldn't bother me, many 18 year olds don't act like adults anyway. (For that matter, neither do some 35 year olds.) I've got a friend who's in the swinging scene - I think she's opening herself up to being hurt emotionally and to hurting her marriage, but she and her husband and their "partners" are all consenting adults. They're going into this voluntarily with their eyes open. As far as I'm concerned, the government should let consenting adults do what they will - as long as they aren't harming anyone else.

#49 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 11:26 AM:

Kevin Andrew Murphy:

The problem of incest *is* blood related. Certain genetic disorders in offspring occur with increasing frequency the more closely related the marriage partners are. It's called founders effect, and the classic example of this is the incidence of hemophilia in European royalty.

Another example is polyploidy (extra fingers) in an Amish community that began with only a few members. (See: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/06/3/l_063_03.html)

So brother sister parings are bad, because a brother and sister are genetically similar (sharing 25% of their genes) and so if they have a recessive genetic disorder (a disorder when the offspring must inherit the gene from BOTH parents for the disorder to mainfest) it is much more likely to appear in their offspring than in the offspring of non-related adults.

What is interesting, is that there was a recent study that found that cousin marriages do not always cause delterious health effects. (There was a recent article on Discover in that past couple months).

So the ban against incest has a genetic proponent. Children are more likely to have rare disorders if their parents are closely related, but the degree of closeness may not be as close as previously thought. So sibling relationships, where partners share 25% of their genes, and parents child relationships, where partners share 50% of their genes, are bad.

Pure bred dogs are actually a good example of the problems inbreeding can case, if you know anything about the physical problems such animals may have. Their problems stem from too much inbreeding.

What legal right do we have to ban such marriages and relationships? I don't know. Should such a marraige be allowed if the couple were sterilized? Good question. After all that would remove the genetic dangers? But I still don't think it would be acceptable. I've read theories that inbreeding is naturally abhorent to most people, as a reaction to the inherent danger, so even if the couple were sterilized, that would not reduce the yuck factor of it.

#50 ::: RachelK ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 12:09 PM:

Teresa, I agree that such an amendment would be unlikely to become reality. However, I don't think it would be because of objections from transsexuals, intersexuals or other people who blur/challenge the traditional norms of sex and gender.

American society has shown relatively little remorse for screwing over transgender/intersexual people in the past. The Littleton case is an excellent example. As another, most Americans will still readily laugh at "transvestites" even if they're enlightened enough to think that it's not okay to laugh at gay folks. There have been numerous cases where transgender/intersexual people's rights have been challenged and gotten little support from others.

Certainly, most Republicans have few qualms about stomping on the rights of transgender people if it means restricting the definition of marriage. In fact, I suspect they would see it as a feature rather than a bug. Discussion would be fast, if the PATRIOT act is any indication.

#51 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 03:47 PM:

Another example is polyploidy (extra fingers) in an Amish community that began with only a few members. (See: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/06/3/l_063_03.html)

You mean polydactyly. Polyploidy is the condition of having one or more extra full sets of chromosomes, n times the normal (diploid) number . It is relatively common in plants, and can make them larger. It is rare in the animal kingdom; in some insect species, such as bees, the workers are haploid (half the normal set of chromosomes). A polyploid human would be a genetic miracle; if an embryo was to become polyploid through incomplete cell division, it would abort.

If anyone knows why humans have five fingers on each hand, counting the thumb (instead of four or six), I'd like to know.

#52 ::: Dennis Slater ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 04:34 PM:

Certainly, most Republicans have few qualms about stomping on the rights of transgender people if it means restricting the definition of marriage. In fact, I suspect they would see it as a feature rather than a bug. Discussion would be fast, if the PATRIOT act is any indication.

What rights do transgender people now have that Republicans are stomping on? And which Republicans in particular are doing this? If 'most' of them are stomping on someone's rights you should be able to name several of them for us.

The US Senate passed the Patriot Act by a bi-partisan 96-1 vote. There seemed to me, from what I read, to have been plenty of time for both parties to read and understand the provisions in the bill. I do not think that anyone who voted for it was tricked or bamboozled into voting for it. Most senators are seasoned politicians and most of them are lawyers I believe.

#53 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 04:38 PM:

Sara, humans are hardly unique in our five-fingeredness. It seems to go back at least 340 million years, since Casineria established the lineage of land-dwelling vertebrates, and has something to do with a set of genes called the Hox genes.

#54 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 04:39 PM:

Don't dolphins have five "fingers" inside their flippers? Skeletally, I mean?

#55 ::: Dennis Slater ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 04:45 PM:

If anyone knows why humans have five fingers on each hand, counting the thumb (instead of four or six), I'd like to know.

I found this. I don't know a thing about it but the person I am married to probably does and I will ask her tonight once the dishes are done.

"Regulation of number and size of digits by posterior Hox genes: a dose-dependent mechanism with potential evolutionary implications showed that as the amount of HOX gene product present in mouse embryos was gradually reduced, embryo effects led first to ectrodactyly, then to olygodactyly and then to adactyly (no fingers). Interestingly, the researchers saw that on the way from having five fingers to having no fingers in the embryos, there was a step where the embryos were polydactyl - had more than five fingers. Knowing that the first amphibians were polydactyl (see items E. (Ichthyostega) and F. (Acanthostega) in the figure below), the authors proposed the hypothesis that the changes from polydactyl (more than five fingers) limbs in the earliest amphibians to pentadactyl limbs (having five fingers) in the common ancestor of all more recent tetrapods may have been controlled by changes in the regulation of HoxA and HoxD gene expression. Once again we see the possibility of explaining the observed fossil record by observations of the behavior of Hox genes in a modern organism." http://www.gate.net/~rwms/EvoLimb.html

#56 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 05:25 PM:

I have to admit, in all sincerity, that that is just really cool. I'd be very interested in any further info your spouse can provide as well.

So even though our number system is base 10, it could be called HOXadecimal?

#57 ::: dragonet2 ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 09:04 PM:

Wow. Lots of intelligent comments on a deep subject. Except I feel it isn't. I think it's a ploy to divert attention from the morass in Iraq, causing a lot of sound and fury diverted in another direction than outrage at waste. Yes Iraq may have needed to be dealt with, but he lied to get us there.

BTW, I live in what amounts to a loving and financial 'marriage' of three here, we can't do it legally though we'd love to. Just that the folks I've known to 'marry' such as they can (recognized by their pastor, etc.) when gay have as much or as more so a tendancy to divorce, even though it isn't (mostly) as legally nasty. It can get financially nasty, especially if they haven't gone through the legal hoops (which you don't if married under the law... and we've dealt with by paper and contracts and lawyers). Division of property is especially sticky.

my opinion, your mileage may vary.

#58 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 09:51 PM:

In fact (she remarked, in true non sequitur mode), after much pondering, I'd go so far as to say that all moral systems' primary purpose is to to define and adjudicate uses of power in human activities and relationships.


-l.

#59 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 10:34 PM:

I'd call those ethical systems, but I know my definition is eccentric. There are moral systems that ban masturbation: that has nothing to do with power relationships, other than the authority from whom the moral system is received having power-over the masturbator.

Reminds me of a similar statement about legal systems: they're an attempt to align self-interest with social interest.

#60 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 12:29 AM:

Michelle,

As any dog or cat breeder will tell you, inbreeding is also a way to concentrate desirable traits. Not all mutations are negative or debilitating.

The studies on cross-cousin marriages may be knew to recent science magazines, but they were old hat when I was in college. The Bedouin, for example, have been practicing this for thousands of years, and would have noticed any significant problems fairly soon.

Lethal conditions tend to sort themselves out of the deck fairly quickly, and non-lethal but icky ones tend to dramatically decrease your dating possibilities, unless you're something like, say, heir to the throne.

The "yuck" factor of incest is a social construct. If it were genetically determined, everyone on the planet would be thinking it was gross, which is obviously not the case.

#61 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 12:41 AM:

Indeed. If first cousins marrying one another led reliably to deformity, mopery, and dopery, the human race would have died off roughly 100,000 years ago.

As the late Stephen Jay Gould pointed out in The Mismeasure of Man, the whole business with the "Jukes" and the "Kallikaks," Appalachian families supposedly sunk in depravity after generations of inbreeding, was an obvious journalistic hoax.

Exogamy is indeed good genetic policy--but the opposite practice doesn't actually lead directly to lantern-jawed mutants playing omnious banjo tunes. Indeed, the great ruling families of Europe had to work for centuries to achieve that happy state.

#62 ::: Eloise Mason ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 09:27 AM:

Michelle said: Another example is polyploidy (extra fingers) in an Amish community that began with only a few members.

Multiple extra fingers is polydactyly. Polyploidy is having more-than-a-pair of a or several chromosomes (commercial modern maize, for example, is if I recall correctly tetraploid -- four copies of each chromosome -- though its wild-type original is only diploid (as are you and me and pretty much all mammals). Worker bees are haploid -- only one chromosome instead of a pair -- and other species sometimes use number-of-chromosomes-in-each-set for sex selection.

Sorry. Biogeek. Fandom: where we correct you to be polite!

#63 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 09:55 AM:

And in other news, the Episcopal Church weaseled out. They approved the blessing of same-sex unions (go them)--but they didn't vote to write a liturgy for it, to go in the Book of Common Prayer. On the one hand, I'm disappointed; it's not a real Episcopal ceremony until there's a piece of flowery language for it. But I'm just as happy about them leaving the Prayer Book alone; I still don't like the new version (which is almost 25 yrs old at this point) and I live in fear of the dumbing-down they'll give us next time.

#64 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 10:17 AM:

Sara et al: Polyploidy vs Polydactyl. (smacking forehead) Believe it or not, I knew that. It's my fault for forgetting to check what I said against what I meant. I apologise.

Kevin Andrew Murphy: My point about dog breeding is that they have carried it to an extreme, because their rules don't allow you breed outside AKA members. My brother's dog is only 5 or 6, but already has health problems, and that's quite common in pure breds--you can breed in health problems with the desired traits. (For what it's worth, my brother and his wife get rescue dogs, they don't buy AKA animals.)

The solution would be to allow dogs that are not from the AKA pool but have the correct traits, to be bred in. That would allow you to continue to breed for the traits that are important (size, sense of smell, whatever) while improving the overall health of the breed. (I hope that makes sense. It's good to be able to breed for specific traits, but by reducing the number of potential mates, you are increasing the likelihood that negative traits will remain in the breeding pool along with the desired traits.)

It really depends upon how large your starting pool of breeders is. If you have only a handful of individuals in the beginning, you are more likely to have recessive mutations occur with greater frequency. No, they don't have to be dangerous, after all, a mutation is neither negative or positive, it's simply a change, but the problems caused by dangerous recessives is increased with greater inbreeding.

And the yuck factor was to refer not to cousin marriages, but to sibling-sibling and parent child marriages. After all, cousin marriages are not as genetically dangerous as was believed (unless there is continued inbreeding from a small pool). I read something recently that said that cousin-cousin relationships can actually be beneficial to a family, at least as far as wealth is concerned, because it keeps the family fourune from becoming to widely dispersed. You don't have to share with as many people. Though there is no *universal* anything, to my understanding parent-child and sibling-sibling relationships are typically frowned upon in most cultures.

My original point was supposed to be that there are reasons to be wary of sibling-sibling parent-child marriages, simply because the likelihood of a lethal recessive is so high.

Like I said, does this mean that such relatinships could be allowed as long as both partners were sterilized? And genetics is rapidly reaching the point where it should be possible to create an embryo that had only the positive recessives and none of the negative recessives genes, so would it be acceptable then? I don't know.

Coming from an area that is viewed to be rife with incest (even though it isn't) my knee-jerk reaction is to never allow it. But from a genetic standpoint, we are rapidly reaching the point where it shouldn't matter, at which point the danger of recessive diseases such as haemophilia (or cystic fibrosus etc) is no longer a problem. So the reason for banning incestous marriages would be solely cultural instead of genetic.

I hope that clarified what I was trying to say initially?

#65 ::: Caroline Yeldham ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 11:20 AM:

Recent article in The Observer (UK Sunday paper) on incest amongst adult adoptees finding their birth family raises some interesting questions about the taboo, and the effects when adults break said taboo.

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,949283,00.html

Love the blog and comments.

#66 ::: Dennis Slater ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 12:32 PM:

I have to admit, in all sincerity, that that is just really cool. I'd be very interested in any further info your spouse can provide as well.

So even though our number system is base 10, it could be called HOXadecimal?

Clever. Very clever. My comment about my wife was a HOX. (not as clever, but I like it) Actually she didn't know. I was surprised.

Like the wise farmer who gets the 'best' bull that he can afford to improve the genetic makeup of his herd of cattle, societies sometimes adopt 'rules' that limit who can swim in the gene pool with whom for the genetic good of the society in general. Some may regard that as a good thing but I dislike limiting personal freedom in anyway uhless there is demonstrable, significant benefit to society as a whole. At some time in the future, if we have perfect genetic knowledge (say, gene A343 or whatever causes cancer of liver for example) then there may be pressure to have government to either remove the possibility of that harmful or undesirable gene being cast to the 4 winds or send the individual to a gene repair shop to somehow 'fix' the gene itself if that is possible. I would probably support limits on the freedom to pass on genes that lead to horrific diseases that cause pain and suffering in innocent people during their lives if we had the technology to determine if the gene was present in people. Society would greatly benefit from this curtailment of freedom.

Perhaps couplings in the future, when everyone is issued a gene card at birth, will be prefaced by mutual requests "Show me your genes." instead of the usual verbal foreplay that goes on now. There could be a little device on the night stand into which the two individuals can then put their gene cards at the same time. Then a pulsing green light with soft music and a voice saying quietly "go for it, go for it" or harsh red light with a loud siren and a authorative voice that says "Step away from the bed!! Step away from the bed!!!" comes on to indicate the couples genetic compatibility. The machine will also give them a print out of the likely characteristics of their offspring - blue eyes, dimples, long eyelashes, straight teeth, jutting chin, intelligent, Republican, etc., 2 keepsake photos of the potential child, and a 30 digit confirmation number. Then the data would be transmitted to John Ashcroft's office per Patriot Act XXII who will, within several hours, review the data and approve the coupling. This will, of course, give new meaning to the terms "being turned on" or "turned off" as in "I am soooooo happy. John Ashcroft turned me on today".

#67 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 12:49 PM:

Dennis - trying to come up with a HOX/"hocks" pun, but not getting anywhere (hamhocks? Hocks his (family) jewels? Nahhhh).

Two things to say about your scenario: 1) Ewwww, especially the bit about John Ashcroft turning on anyone, and 2) movie you should see: Gattaca (whose name is entirely made up of base-pair initials, as a hint of what it's about).

#68 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 10:57 PM:

Two quick points here:

Siblings will have (on the average) 50% genetic identity (each will have half the genes each parent has, not half the genes one parent has) -- the confusion is probably the Mendelian assortment of homozygotes and heterozygotes. The range would run from 25% to 75+%; the plus happens in the cases where the parents have the same allele. Parent-child offspring tend higher -- it's still possible to have a daughter that would have exactly the same genetic makeup as the female of the parent-child pair (and it's possible I might win the California Lottery tomorrow). This technical neepery is not actually relevant to the conversation, but included for statistical verisimilitude to add color to an otherwise bald and unconvincing argument.

The second, more relevant point -- according to the conversation I had with Dave Nee this morning, what the church did was allow local parishes to decide whether or not they would sanction gay unions. This Is A Very Big Deal! While not all parishes will do so (and thus I can really understand why they didn't design a ceremony, particularly since they were probably a bit short of time and thought that local parishes that choose to do this might do a better job!), this really seems to me to be the thin edge into getting churches to recognize gay union. And this seems to go completely counter to Bush's proposed amendment, from the standpoint of those who believe that the church should do the church's job and the state should do the state's job.

This feels like the big news to me. The ordination of a gay bishop? That's easy to use to sell newspapers -- individuals are more newsworthy than communities. The church allowing individual parishes to choose to recognize same-sex unions? That's not easy news to report. But it's a lot more likely to change communities than the former.

Cheers,
Tom Whitmore

#69 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 11:19 PM:

Tom, it's possible (though fabulously unlikely) for full siblings to share no genetic material at all. Heinlein had a pair of twins like that in one novel, can't remember which.

Each haploid sperm or egg has half the genetic material of the diploid sex cell from which it arose. Pair them carefully, and you get one "twin" of each sex, unrelated to each other (genetically speaking). Well, except for the maternally-inherited mitochondrial RNA, but we're talking about nucleic stuff here.

So your range should be from 0% - 75+%, which in a normal curve would put the mean right around 37.5%. Except that your top end is wrong, too (I think). Full siblings could also, by an only slightly more unlikely coincidence, have exactly the same genes...this could also happen by normal twinning, of course, but that brings the mean back up to 50% where it belongs.

I may have screwed up somewhere. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

BTW, does anyone else think it's strange that we use 'haploid' and 'diploid' for this stuff? Shouldn't it be 'monoploid' and 'diploid' OR 'haploid' and 'holoploid' or something?

But wait, aren't holoploids those Greek foot soldiers? Or what you get when you didn't mothball your tartan carefully enough?

Ooog. Bedtime.

#70 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 11:29 PM:

Xopher -- if they had exactly the same genetic makeup, they'd almost undoubtedly be the same gender....

Makes having children a bit difficult. Not impossible, given the discussion on XX males and XY females.

And you're right, the high end is higher (which is why I put the + in there). And averaging the percentages is not the best way to find the actual modal case -- some percentages are more likely than others. Your 37.5% is not a good guess -- I credit your tiredness as bringing it out.

Modal case -- somewhere between 25% and 75% allelically (cringes at the neologism) identical, with a peak around 50%. And we're completely ignoring point mutations changing alleles here, which is not a valid assumption, just useful.

Pedantically,
Tom

#71 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2003, 02:51 AM:

Speaking of lantern-jawed banjo players, has anyone checked out the before-and-after pictures of Arnie?

Yes, the main Republican candidate for governor in California's recall...

#72 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2003, 08:39 AM:

Tom - no, I discounted the 37.5 because the range is actually 0 - 100, so the median (and therefore mode, in a normal curve) is 50. And if I remember my statistics correctly (doubtful), in a normal curve 60% of the values are within one standard deviation of the mean. I don't know what the SD is, but when I picture the curve your numbers seem right for most people.

The point I was too tired to make: a normal curve includes some extreme cases; the bell has a middle, but it also has the skinny ends. What's probable is one thing; what's possible is another. And if you multiply the tiny probabilities of those cases by the number of people in the world, I bet you get at least a couple dozen cases of unrelated fraternals, or identicals from different pregnancies. Not that you have a real chance of tracking any down.

And of course you're right about the identicals being the same gender. And I don't think they could be different by the mechanisms that produce XX males and XY females, unless the mother's hormonal structure changes radically between two pregnancies - she takes a bunch of testosterone injections during pregnancy, for example, but not enough to cause a miscarriage (bloody unlikely). With actual twins, it's virtually impossible; same genes, same womb, same hormones at the same times.

I forgot we were talking about the offspring having kids. Mepf.

#73 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2003, 08:52 AM:

And birth technology (if the anti-progress types don't succeed in causing another Dark Ages) should make it possible for people of the same sex to breed. I was hoping it would be in my lifetime, since I have the same parental urges as anyone. That includes wanting to mingle my genes with the person I love most, and raise the resultant mixed geneset, whose personality will miraculously be both a blend of us both, and hir own unique self, different from either.

That technology is far down the road, though. I bet a human will be successfully cloned during my lifetime, probably before the decade is out. I'd settle for raising my own clone. As the Clone Rights United Front puts it, cloning "breaks the heterosexual monopoly on reproduction;" I'd say it depends on how you count. He wouldn't be me, of course; note comments above about unique self, plus he'd grow up in a different environment: only child, parented by someone (hopefully two someones) who loves him a LOT, not to mention being born in the "aughts."

Sigh. I missed the timing, I'm afraid. If I had a child now, I'd be in my sixties by the time s/he was ready to graduate high school. So I'll settle for uncling.

#74 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2003, 01:44 PM:

Heinlein had a pair of twins like that in one novel, can't remember which.
Xopher, it was Time Enough For Love - brother/sister twins whom Lazarus Long bought as slaves on one planet and freed on another. There's a long and typically Heinleinish digression into genetics on the issue of whether it was okay for those two to breed, and a further digression on whether it was okay for the children of their marriage to breed with each other.

#75 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2003, 01:51 PM:

Thanks, that was it. I remember the first digression but not the second. I think the answers are a) yes, and b) no, but I'm not sure what answer RAH came up with for the second one.

#76 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2003, 02:02 PM:

Speaking of lantern-jawed banjo players, has anyone checked out the before-and-after pictures of Arnie?

The gap you can see between his front teeth is frequently a sign of steroid abuse.

#77 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2003, 02:03 PM:

Speaking of lantern-jawed banjo players, has anyone checked out the before-and-after pictures of Arnie?

The gap you can see between his front teeth is frequently a sign of steroid abuse.

#78 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2003, 02:21 PM:

Two comments: Xopher, nice to have a discussion with you -- hope we meet someday. Biological _pilpul_ -- not what I expected here, and always fun!

James, As You Well Know the gap between upper front teeth is related to the fact that the uppers are on two separate bones where the lower teeth are on a single bone -- and the joint in between the uppers is variably thick. This was one of those Amazing Realizations to me in massage school -- rather like the recent realization that adrenaline and epinephrine are not only the same hormone, but only differ in their derivations by one being Latin and the other Greek.... (For the non classically educated, both mean "above the kidneys".) I thought I was in the minority with not realizing this, but have since discovered that it's not really common knowledge.

And a great many people have the gap without any obvious steroid abuse -- look around at smiling people. There's even a belief among some that gap-toothed women are sexier than those without the gap; personally, I find that a bit odd.

Cheers,
Tom Whitmore

#79 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2003, 02:45 PM:

All this is true, Tom. I said "frequently," not "invariably." Given Mr. Schawtzenegger's previous line of work, I find this an interesting possibility.

#80 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2003, 03:10 PM:

Xopher, nice to have a discussion with you -- hope we meet someday.

Likewise!

#81 ::: dave heasman ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 10:49 AM:

I've not ploughed (plowed?) through all the comments but : -
> one of my favorite stories, from back in the days when the British Empire sometimes stashed well-connected remittance men in obscure diplomatic posts -- in this case, Uruguay. The guy shows up for some formal reception completely plowed. He wanders in, spots someone in a long red gown, bows, and says "Madame, may I have this dance?"

"No, you may not, for three reasons," says the person.

"First, you are drunk. Second, they are playing the national anthem. And third, I am the Archbishop of Montevideo."
==

This is a true story, verified by many, but it was the 60s, the *19*60s, it was in Europe somewhere, the drunken UK diplomat was George Brown, Foreign Secretary (= Secretary of State) and the prelate the Cardinal Archbish of Lima.

#82 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 12:35 PM:

...Gattaca (whose name is entirely made up of base-pair initials, as a hint of what it's about).

Someone can probably explain this to me in half a second, but I keep thinking: Shouldn't it have an even number of letters then?

#83 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 12:44 PM:

Base initials. Just autopiloted to '-pair' after using 'base' in that sense. Sorry for the inconvenenience.

#84 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 02:45 PM:

Tom:
Siblings will have (on the average) 50% genetic identity (each will have half the genes each parent has, not half the genes one parent has) -- the confusion is probably the Mendelian assortment of homozygotes and heterozygotes.

Now you know why I studied plant physiology instead of human genetics.

But my initial point is still valid, perhaps more so. Siblings share enough genes to make matings statistically safe.

Thank you for your patience with my mostly forgotten genetics.

#85 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 05:08 PM:

Just to make things weirder, I heard part of a story on NPR this morning about "chimera", organisms (including people) with _several_ genomes. Apparently, sometimes (fraternal) twin embryos fuse, and the regulatory mechanisms that prevent things like extra limbs cause them to end up producing one individual. Different parts of an individual come from different parts of the embryo; in the case of a chimera, different parts of their body have _different_ DNA!

So it's possible to have children whose DNA in their blood has _no_ connection to the DNA in their mother's blood! The report interviewed a woman in that situation; DNA tests showed that her sons weren't "hers", because there was too little similarity between the DNA taken from them and the DNA taken from her.

I think it's even possible for some parts of the individual to have XX chromosomes, and other parts XY!

It's probably also possible to have more than 2 genomes, but less likely due to the decreased likelyhood of triplet embryos versus twins as the starting point for fusing.

#86 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 05:53 PM:

Yeah, I heard that report too. At least both halves of her had the same parents. I thought organisms with different DNA in different cells were called Mosaics...one of you bio types want to clarify the distinction, if any?

I read a story some years ago about "tetraparentals" - people grown from artificially fused zygotes from two different sets of parents. The author assumed they'd be superintelligent for some reason. Wonder how long before someone does that. You know, just to see what would happen.

#87 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 06:07 PM:

Chimeras? Sure. I know one. I think I may know two.

Personally, I think that tetraploid humans would be bigger, and have thicker stems and more substantial petals.

#88 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 06:27 PM:

There's a great example of effective chimerae that we all see pretty regularly -- calico cats. The different colors of black and orange-red are different alleles of the same gene. In some parts of the cat, one gets turned on and the other doesn't (the white is another gene entirely). So we actually get to see which one is working in that part of the skin! This, by the way, is why almost all calico cats are female -- the gene is on their equivalent of an X chromosome.

At least, this is what I learned long ago in a genetics class....

Cheers,
Tom

#89 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 08:17 PM:

There's another (at least one other) kind of chimerism in humans: sometimes fetal cells get into the maternal bloodstream during pregnancy, and stay there indefinitely. Thus, there are women some of whose blood cells carry only half of their own genes. This is rarely noticed, especially if the chimeric cells are also XX rather than XY.

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