A Philosopher's Blog

Will Same-Sex Marriage Lead to Fathers Marrying Their Sons?

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on April 5, 2013
Jeremy Irons

Cover of Jeremy Irons

Actor Jeremy Irons was recently asked about the legalization of same-sex marriage. In response, he raised the question of whether or not a father could marry a son.

When I first heard that Irons spoke about a father marrying a son, I had inferred that he was just presenting the tired stock anti-same sex slippery slope fallacy in which it is claimed that if we allow same-sex marriage, then this will inevitably lead to allowing incest (and bestiality). The stock replies to this line of “reasoning” are to 1) point out that it is the slippery slope fallacy and 2) explain that allowing same-sex marriage no more allows incest (or bestiality) than does allowing different-sex marriage. After all, if different-sex couples can marry without a slide into different-sex incest and bestiality, then it would certainly seem to be the case that same-sex couples could marry without a slide into incest and bestiality.

However, Irons raised a more interesting point: if we allow same-sex marriage and this leads to allowing a father to marry his son, this could be used to work around the inheritance laws. After all, while a son would have to pay the inheritance tax on property he inherited from his father, he would not have to do so on property inherited from a deceased spouse. So, a father and son could get married not for the purpose of incest but for avoiding the inheritance tax. This idea might cause some confusion for certain Republicans—after all, this provides a way to avoid taxes but at the cost of allowing same-sex incestuous marriage.

While Irons did not explore all the ramifications, if anyone could marry anyone, then people could marry each other to get various spousal benefits (such as insurance coverage or green cards). While Irons’ point is interesting, it is easy enough to address these worries.

First, the claim that allowing same-sex marriage automatically entails that incestuous marriage be allowed is still the slippery slope fallacy. If accepting different-sex marriage does not warrant different sex-incest, then neither does same-sex marriage. And, of course, neither would warrant accepting bestiality. As such, there seems to be no reason to worry that legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to fathers marrying their sons to avoid taxes.

Second, while the idea of a father marrying a son to avoid taxes seems shocking, the general problem would be the exploitation of marriage. This is not a problem unique to same-sex marriage. After all, people already exploit different-sex marriage. As a specific example, a man could marry a woman (who is not too closely related) so she can avoid paying the inheritance task.  Nothing about the current marriage laws forbids this.  To make the more general point, any advantageous exploitation of marriage that would become available to a same-sex couple with the legalization of same-sex marriage is already available to different-sex couples.

If such advantageous exploitations are the problem, then the solution would be fixing these problems rather than focusing unfairly on the idea that same-sex couples would avail themselves of existing marital exploits. For example, if there is a terrible worry that people would engage in same-sex marriage to avoid the inheritance tax, then the solution would be to require spouses to pay this tax (or eliminate it altogether). As another example, if there is grave concern that two guys will get married just so one guy can get health insurance, then the solution is to change the insurance laws. After all, if the concern is that marriage will be exploited, then the clear solution is to take away the exploitable advantages—that way we can be sure people are not marrying just to avoid a tax, get insurance or for some other similar reason.

Some people do imply that same-sex couples would be more likely to engage in such advantageous exploits than different-sex couples or even that people would pretend to be gay to gain such advantages.

One obvious response is that there seems to be no reason to think that same-sex couples would be any more (or less) likely to marry for advantages. As far as people pretending to be gay, that seems to be rather odd—after all, a person who is not gay and wants to marry for an advantageous exploit could simply find a person of the opposite sex. The idea of pretending to be gay might make for a plot device for a comedy, but is hardly something that would be commonly (or even uncommonly) done.

If the problem is that same-sex couples would have the same advantages as different-sex couples, then this would seem to be a mere expression of prejudice.

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17 Responses

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  1. FRE said, on April 5, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    You forgot one reason people marry. Sometimes people in other countries will marry a U.S. citizen to be able to enter the U.S.

  2. WTP said, on April 5, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    The reasoning in general is flawed. You gloss over so much from an ivory tower perspective. But as I said on the other thread the real slippery slope here is using the courts to open the meaning of words to interpretation. There exist far more rational and safer approaches to resolving this issue, but so-called philosophers and their bull-headed ways do not wish to be bothered with them.

  3. FRE said, on April 5, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    There may be more rational and safer approaches, but that doesn’t mean that they will work. More rational and safer approaches did not end racial segregation or make inter-racial marriage legal in all states.

    It does not work well to depend on voters to uphold the civil rights of minorities.

    • WTP said, on April 5, 2013 at 10:08 pm

      The gay marriage issue is in no way comparable in risk to life, liberty, or property to the segregationist issues of the per-1960s. No one is dying, being physically harmed, nor being denied access to life critical services due to the current definition of marriage. This issue can quite easily addressed through the standard democratic process.

      As I pointed out to Mike, who not that I care but who himself regards people with certain specific perspectives as untouchable, there is no legal barrier to people joining in any civil contract that they themselves wish to define. For the courts to take it upon themselves to redefine the meaning of words sets a very dangerous precedent.

      • FRE said, on April 5, 2013 at 10:22 pm

        Actually, people ARE being denied critical services. If two men are raising children and one stays home to care for the children while the other works, the one staying home may be unable to be on his partner’s health insurance program in which case he may not be able to afford individual health insurance. There is also the problem of child custody if one of them dies. These problems and others have been well documented.

        Contrary to what some people assume, it is not unusual for same-sex couples to raise children. This may happen if one or both had previously been married to someone of the opposite sex, if children were adopted, or in the case of women, one was artificially inseminated.

        These issues have not been adequately addressed through the democratic system, and not through lack of effort.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 6, 2013 at 11:44 am

          Quite right. If someone is in the role of a parent, then they certainly deserve (in general) what other parents get, etc.

          This is why I favor decoupling marriage from the various legal and economic aspects. In my book on the subject, I argue that this would benefit all parties. For example, religious groups could own their definition of marriage and forbid anyone they do not approve of from getting married in the religious sense. For the legal and economic aspects, people could just draw up partnership contracts to define those aspects. Naturally, the legal and economic contracts could involve a person of the same sex or even a relative. So, if Jeremy Irons wanted to use his one use legal right to pass on property without paying the tax, he could engage in that contract with his son. If Bob wanted his hunting buddy Ted to fill that insurance slot, he could do that. And so on.

  4. T. J. Babson said, on April 5, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    Mike, since there are no children possible from same sex marriages, what is the reason to forbid marriages between close relatives?

    When it comes down to it, the only reason is that it makes you uncomfortable, and that is the only reason people object to gay marriage.

    Please be consistent. What is your reason to forbid marriages between close blood relatives? And don’t appeal to tradition.

    • WTP said, on April 5, 2013 at 10:11 pm

      So are you going to tenaciously hold a certain lefty to her own standards? Don’t quit on this.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 6, 2013 at 11:35 am


      That is a fair question. My Wednesday post will answer it. Consistently. 🙂

  5. T. J. Babson said, on April 7, 2013 at 9:47 am

    I am personally in favor of gay marriage, but it is clear that gay marriage will come with a host of unintended consequences.

    What will happen when gay couples travel abroad. Maybe they will go to a Muslim country where homosexuality is punished by death. What will the U.S. do if 2 Americans are arrested and receive the death penalty?

    • biomass2 said, on April 7, 2013 at 11:15 am

      “Unintended consequences” came up in a previous discussion. In fact, I believe every time the phrase “slippery slope” arises “unintended consequences” lurk in the shadows nearby . I cannot personally think of too many human actions that do not have unintended consequences, and, to my knowledge,no computer program has been written that can identify all of the possible consequences of any given action. Until one appears, we must give our actions due consideration and move forward.

      One possible consequence of thinking too hard about “unintended consequences” is impeding progress. In the futile attempt to perform an “unintended consequences”-free action we’ll be be frozen in place.

      • T. J. Babson said, on April 7, 2013 at 1:46 pm

        Mike claims there will be no important unintended consequences.

        • biomass2 said, on April 7, 2013 at 5:17 pm

          I didn’t read that into his article or his replies. As far as gay couples in Muslim countries, I’m assuming that ,since you have foreseen such a consequence, it’s no longer “unforeseen”, and our lawmakers can readily deal with it as efficiently and forthrightly as they deal with other issues of importance 😀
          I doubt if, when our founding lawmakers composed and debated the Second Amendment, they intended the mass murder of 20 children under 7 in a 21st century America where lunatics have access to automatic weapons.
          But perhaps DOMA supporters and anti-gay rights groups actually have functioning crystal balls . 200+ years from now, gay marriage will have destroyed the institution of marriage (that’ll only take a nudge), and humans will marry their pets and copulate with them . Modern science by that time may make possible reproduction between men and bitches and women and male hounds. Oh the “marriages” they’ll see!! The progeny they’ll produce!!
          Perhaps we should commit ourselves now to legislation that deals with the possible consequences of mixed marriages. Woman, pig, and ficus plant? What to do? Rick Sanctorum should devote his remaining years out of office to fighting for a Constitutional amendment focusing on this very problem. After all, we don’t want to leave our children’s children’s children’s “children” drowning in debt and trapped in immoral, indefinable marriages and producing science-fiction monsters.

          • T. J. Babson said, on April 7, 2013 at 6:57 pm


            I think we can sort out likely consequences. For example, fathers will not be allowed to marry their sons even if gay marriage gets the green light. We have also seen the effects of same-sex marriages where it is legal. That provided empirical data as to what has happened and what would probably happen elsewhere.

            • biomass2 said, on April 7, 2013 at 8:31 pm

              TJ: Fathers can marry sons in a straight marriage can’t they? If Jeremy Irons is the source of our reasoning in this portion of the discussion, when he states that “It’s not incest between men” that concept must then apply to fathers and sons in straight marriages as well, right? The problem is solved, if gay marriage and straight marriage is eventually considered truly equal under the law. Whatever is considered incest by the state would also be incest in a gay marriage.

              I’d guess the only reason why there have been some “same-sex marriages where it is legal” would be that some benefits available to straights are not available to gays in some states where same-sex marriage is legal (with restrictions imposed by the state’s law?) .and the gay couple finds it necessary to resort to such a strange/strained arrangement to access those benefits.

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