Marriage between close relatives has been a taboo going back to the very beginning. The most notable instance is also one of the oldest: Oedipus Rex, the original motherfucker. In the Sophocles tragedy, he was a foundling raised by a shepherd, so he didn’t know what he was doing when he killed his father and married his mother. Later, he puts the pieces together about his past. In the aftermath, his wife/mom and children die in a murder/suicide, and he blinds himself in shame. One of the play’s minor themes is the red pill axiom that the truth hurts.
That was mythology. However, there have been real cases of close relatives marrying, and willfully. One of them surfaced in the news again lately.
Paging Dr. Freud
As the story goes, in March 2016, Patricia Spann (née Clayton), then 41 (other sources say 43), applied for a marriage license in Comanche County, Oklahoma. Misty Velvet Dawn Spann, her 25 year old bride, also is her daughter. However, in August, someone at the Department of Human Services put the pieces together about their past.
The investigator tells KSWO that Misty and her brothers were raised by a grandparent after Patricia lost custody of them. Patricia allegedly told the investigator that she didn’t believe she was breaking the law because she wasn’t listed on Misty’s birth certificate.
Patricia also told DHS that the two hit it off after reuniting two years ago.
So putting all this together, she was a teenager when she had her daughter. Later on—for unspecified reasons—she lost custody of her girl and her two boys. The grandparent raised them from a young age into adulthood. After their mother finally came back into the picture, she married her own daughter, figuring it was okay since she wasn’t on the birth certificate. It’s not clear how a mother’s name doesn’t get on a child’s birth certificate, but surely there’s a story in it.
This month, the daughter entered a guilty plea for incest, receiving a sentence of ten years of deferred adjudication. That’s legalese for “You better not do that again, or you’re in real trouble!” As for the mother, she plead not guilty, and the trial resumes in January. Will Misty still get marital immunity if she doesn’t want to testify in her wife/mom’s trial, or will that be disallowed because it was an illegal marriage? I’ll have to let greater legal minds than mine ponder that one.
But wait! There’s more!
Understandably, the locals weren’t very impressed:
“Who in their right mind would marry their mom?” Paige Watson who knew Misty from high school, said.
“More stuff happens in small towns than people know,” Watson said. “When I went to school with her, she had a girlfriend, and they both worked at Sonic.”
“I don’t know if incarceration is really going to teach them anything… but there should be some sort of punishment or deterrent,” neighbor Nathan Mansell said.
If all that wasn’t enough, it turns out that before all this, she married one of her sons in 2008, and got an annulment in 2010. As for the other son, he wasn’t too impressed:
“I think she’s worthless she put my sister into this. She forced my sister into this, there’s a lot of people that know it,” Cody Spann told the local news station. “For you to want to put your own daughter through this, what kind of person are you? If that’s what you want that’s on you, but none of us kids want that, and now you got my sister behind bars because of your choices, why don’t you let that sit on you as a mom.”
Patricia reportedly told investigators that the relationship with her son was not sexual and that she only married him to prevent him from being deployed with the military.
She also told investigators that she married her daughter in hopes of adopting a child, KSWO reports.
So a soldier doesn’t get deployed if he’s married? That’s a new one on me. Further, if she wanted to adopt a kid, why did she have to marry someone who already was her kid? (Well, given her track record, she doesn’t need more children, but yanno…) Finally, what exactly did she mean when she said she “hit it off” with her daughter? Was that just in a friendly way, or did Misty break up with that chick at Sonic?
Now I get political (you knew I would)
This has the potential to do more than inspire a new batch of Oklahoma jokes. This, or another case like it, could get pushed up the judicial food chain and become another one of those “landmark decisions”. All that’s needed is some legal advocacy group turning it into a civil rights crusade.
When a law is challenged in judicial review, the state’s attorney must play defense and argue for why the law makes sense. (The fact that the law was enacted by a legislature elected by the people—which is how representative democracy works—isn’t justification enough.) If the argumentation doesn’t suit the Court’s political feelings, the law is struck down. That’s why judge shopping has been such an effective wrecking strategy.
If someone were asked to explain why parents shouldn’t marry their own children, it likely would be:
- Incest is condemned by society here and around the world;
- It’s forbidden by the Bible and by religions everywhere;
- Everyone knows it’s revolting; and
- It increases the risk of birth defects.
An attorney arguing why laws forbidding incest are unconstitutional (=”I don’t like them”) would glibly dismiss all that. The ignorant prejudices of society are oppressive. Further, we can’t have establishment of religion, now can we? Also, mere public opinion shouldn’t limit someone else’s personal freedom.
Then the lawyer would have a field day with the final item. First, mutant babies are only a concern for straight marriages. That’s because two women or two men can’t have children together (though some believe otherwise). Further, unlike in the evil past, the mentally retarded are allowed to have children, even though that’s high risk too. (In fact, some activists even encourage this, a subject worthy of its own discussion.) In the case of an incestuous straight marriage, they simply could use birth control—or not, because that’s their personal choice. That’s “reproductive freedom”, isn’t it? Yada yada yada…
The legal precedents are there
Could it happen? During the great gay marriage debate, cultural conservatives warned that acquiescence would open the door to further “anything goes” redefinitions. As usual, the matter was settled by lawyering it up all the way to the Supreme Court. In 2014, the Obergefell v. Hodges case became another one of those 5-4 decisions that rewrote the law the liberal way in all fifty states. Anthony Kennedy (backed by Kagan, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Ginsburg) legislated from the bench, referencing the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, along with Loving v. Virgina and a couple other cases that somehow had even less relevance.
It’s the typical legalistic casuistry. The equal protection clause was a Reconstruction-era measure meant to ensure that local sheriffs wouldn’t disregard crimes committed against freed slaves. The Loving case said that race mixing is a right guaranteed by the Constitution. These said nothing about gay marriage. Still, that blew the doors open for Obergefell, which will be the launching pad for any future redefining.
Since Earl Warren’s time, the Supreme Court repeatedly has exceeded its authority. Once again, the Court’s majority overrode a legitimate matter of state law, delivered a politically-motivated decision, and came up with legal-sounding pilpul to justify it. Could incest be the next legal frontier? I hope that no further redefining takes place, but anything can happen these days.