Kings did it; lords did it; even the Targaryens and the Lannisters did it. That's the story of, that's the glory of incestuous love.
Two in the throes of immoral love makes for a controversial yet perfect on-screen plot. Mothers bedding their sons and uncles de-flowering their nieces for political leverage, some would argue, only make sense in the world of make-believe. Or does it?
While, as a society, we might be divided on views of lifestyle choices, it is safe to say that, for the most part, the jury has settled unanimously on their opinions of incestuous relationships.
By and large, incest is a taboo topic, and even when discussed in public forums it's always of the non-consenting kind. It's common for the dialogue to focus on sexual assault that features incest as a pervading theme; a grandfather molesting his grandchildren or a father found guilty of raping his daughter. But for reasons that might be more obvious than not, rarely do we consider incest from the perspective of two consenting adults. In most societies, incest is viewed as morally repugnant and condemned by laws which strive to maintain a code of ethics.
One view highlights potential health concerns. Naturally, inbreeding appears to carry several potentially harmful consequences. Scientists have explained that reproducing with a blood relative increases the chances that two harmful, but otherwise rare, recessive alleles will match up. This can result in numerous genetic and development problems that could be carried from one generation to the next.
Besides the obvious moral and scientific arguments against incest, psychologists believe that subconsciously we have cognitive mechanisms that account for incest aversion. Essentially, it appears we are designed to avoid breeding with close relatives. For most of us, incest is morally distasteful and flies in the face of the family structure.
"Aunt sleeping with she nephew, something wrong with that."
But as we all know, with every rule, there are possible exceptions, and in recent times a number of challengers have questioned the validity of invading one's personal choices even when those choices seek to challenge ingrained social, moral and legal principles.
There have been growing arguments around the legality of laws on consensual incestuous relationships that have forced jurisprudential thinkers to consider whether it should be illegal in the first place. Should consenting adults be able to do as they wish? Or should laws continue to restrict interactions that are by their very nature immoral?
In TT, incest is a criminal offence governed by Section 9 of the Sexual Offences Act Chapter 11:28. Like many jurisdictions, Section 9 criminalises both consensual and non-consensual incest. Section 9 (1) states that a person commits the offence of incest who knowing that another person is by blood relationship, his or her parent, child, brother, sister, grandparent, grandchild, uncle, niece, aunt or nephew, as the case may be, has sexual intercourse with that person. Section 9 (2) states that one would face life imprisonment if found liable on conviction. Convictions for non-consensual incest are far more commonplace in our society when compared to consensual incest between two adults, which from all appearances, seldom occur.
In some countries, however, incest is merely taboo and would only attract criminal culpability if it involves a child or lack of consent. For example, in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, there are no laws that prohibit consenting adults (over the age of majority) from engaging in an incestuous relationship. In others, it is legal, but for a few exceptions. In Spain, following the reign of Napoleon, laws against incest were abolished, making it legal for blood relatives to engage in sexual relations, with a restriction placed on marriage between siblings. Perhaps one of the most controversial yet interesting laws on incest can be found in Italy. According to Article 564 of Italy's Penal code, incest is only deemed illegal if it provokes a public scandal and is punishable by two to eight years' imprisonment.
Much closer to home, laws on incest in the US vary between states, and there are several well-known reported incestuous relationships throughout the country. Incest, without a doubt, is one of the most categorically denounced practices in the world, yet some juridical authors questioned the need for its prohibition.
Incest taboo, some believe, is reinforced in contemporary society by moral, religious and scientific viewpoints that somehow don't always relate to the violation of rights. Moreover, the genetic approach to some is a highly flawed argument, as consenting non-related individuals who carry genetic diseases aren't forced to take a vow of celibacy or prevented from reproducing because they are carriers.
In fact, according to one writer, if we subscribe to the genetics argument, should we then treat carriers of all genetic disorders the same way we treat related couples? After all, medical advances may be used to address these genetic issues between socially accepted couples. Shouldn't the same apply to related couples? Or is our application of the genetic argument a form of arbitrary discrimination?
Other writers believe this contemporary view is based on the misleading notion that abnormality and perversion have ethical implications. To this, some argue it doesn't. And while ensuring the sanctity of the family structure is often waved around, there is an argument to be made that relationships between two consent adults further strengthen bonds of love and intimacy instead of undermining them. Generally, supporters hold that forbidding incest denies us our rights and removes our freedom to choose who we love.
Is incest a moral dilemma? Or are we merely simple-minded creatures held captive to views of morality and ethics in a society whose opinions are far different from what they used to be?