Josephite Marriage


#1

I read about a case recently when a married couple in California discovered that they are, in fact, half-siblings because apparently they were both sired by sperm donation from the same man who donated to two separate sperm banks. They have several children. I brought this scenario up with my theology professor and she said that in such a case the Church would likely recommend a Josephite marriage, i.e. the couple could continue to live together for the sake of their children and need not (and probably should not) tell the children or others of their incestous origin but of course the couple could not engage in marital intimacy. However, I was wondering how this would interact with the civil law which would not recognize their marriage as legally valid. Would it be moral for them to maintain a marriage in violation of the civil law and all the various misrepresentations that might entail - i.e. filing joint tax returns, claiming civil marriage benefits, inheritance exemptions, etc. Would claiming the civil benefits of marriage and filing various documents representing this person as your lawful spouse be morally wrong?


#2

Well, I think since they have to obey any civil law that doesn’t tell them to sin then they should get next door apartments or live together in their house as celibate married people and could say they’re doing it as a sacrifice to the Lord, or something like that.


#3

Since they are **already **legally married, I do not know of anything in the civil law that **requires **them to divorce nor that declares the marriage per se invalid. The civil law doesn't quite work the way the Church does regarding such a discovery after the fact.


#4

No, I think civilly a marriage contracted by too close relations is legally void and there is no grounds for exception just because it was unintentional. Possibly there are civil statues that declare people that are related through a sperm donor parent are not considered related for the purposes of anti-incest laws, but that would seem to contradict one of the main reasons for civil incest laws to begin with (i.e. to prevent birth defects). So I would guess not.

It would seem to me that if the state authorities discovered that this couple were related, their marriage would be declared void, and that would have a host of financial/tax consequences, a court would have to determine custody of the children, might possibly order them to foster care, etc. So my original question is that if the Church (if indeed she would) suggests that this couple live in a Josephite marriage, to what extent are they justified in representing themselves as married, say, in tax filings, joint credit applications, etc.


#5

[quote="egosumscotus, post:4, topic:318597"]

It would seem to me that if the state authorities discovered that this couple were related, their marriage would be declared void, and that would have a host of financial/tax consequences, a court would have to determine custody of the children, might possibly order them to foster care, etc.

[/quote]

that is rather melodramatic. There would not be any custody issue or foster care. Don't be silly. If the state did determine they were legally not wed, from the secular perspective so what? People shack up and have kids every day. The state is not going to get involved. Custody would be a private matter between the couple.

[quote="egosumscotus, post:4, topic:318597"]
So my original question is that if the Church (if indeed she would) suggests that this couple live in a Josephite marriage, to what extent are they justified in representing themselves as married, say, in tax filings, joint credit applications, etc.

[/quote]

They can morally do whatever they are legally entitled to do. So, that is a matter for a tax accountant.


#6

[quote="1ke, post:5, topic:318597"]
that is rather melodramatic. There would not be any custody issue or foster care. Don't be silly. If the state did determine they were legally not wed, from the secular perspective so what? People shack up and have kids every day. The state is not going to get involved. Custody would be a private matter between the couple.

  • The state would have to get involved insofar as the marriage was declared null and there would be further consequences of that. Marital property would have to be divided, since marriage gives rise to a presumption of joint ownership of most property. Custody would have to be determined. Since even consensual incest outside of marriage is illegal in many places, a family court could determine that it is not a healthy environment for a child to be living with a half-brother and half-sister who have a history of sexual relations even if they say to the court "oh, we will live together chastely and just raise the kids jointly." The court might not accept that as a realistic plan. So I don't think it is inconceivable that the child could be placed in foster care.

[quote]They can morally do whatever they are legally entitled to do. So, that is a matter for a tax accountant.

[/quote]

  • That is the rub. Can they, for example, file official documents (tax returns, credit applications) that list the other as their spouse? In other words, would it constitute a sin to make civil and social representations that one is civilly married to someone when they know that the incestuous nature of the marriage makes it civilly void? Even if the Church might advise that living together "as husband and wife" (but chastely) is morally allowed for the sake of raising the children. [/quote]

#7

Isn’t it ILLEGAL to be married to a sibling?


#8

I think this case would be at the bottom of the pile if it came to the protection of the children. Why does custody have to be determined? The parents haven’t done anything wrong. And I would be willing to bet that they and others in a similar situation will ultimately be protected by law, not punished.

This isn’t a situation where there is a history of sexual abuse. This was unintentional and no one was trying to manipulate the other or insulate themselves from society.

Incest isn’t illegal just because of increased chance of birth defects but because of the power imbalance. And birth defects, unwanted traits, are not inevitable and it’s just as likely that desireable traits could be strengthened.


#9

[quote="Bruised_Reed, post:8, topic:318597"]
I think this case would be at the bottom of the pile if it came to the protection of the children. Why does custody have to be determined? The parents haven't done anything wrong. And I would be willing to bet that they and others in a similar situation will ultimately be protected by law, not punished.

This isn't a situation where there is a history of sexual abuse. This was unintentional and no one was trying to manipulate the other or insulate themselves from society.

Incest isn't illegal just because of increased chance of birth defects but because of the power imbalance. And birth defects, unwanted traits, are not inevitable and it's just as likely that desireable traits could be strengthened.

[/quote]

  • I'm not so sure I would be that optimistic. Governments shut down kids' lemonade stands too because they don't have a business license. If the government somehow discovered that two half-siblings were married (even if it was not their fault) I think there is a 100% chance that they would move to have the marriage declared void. And given that incest is illegal, I don't think they would accept the idea of the children being raised in the same household by a pair of siblings who had a history of sexual activity (even if innocently so on their part). Ergo, child protective custody might get involved.

So getting back to my original question is, let's say I was bishop or pastor confronted with this situation. Even assuming I was confident that this was a morally upright couple who would refrain from sexual activity and live chastely for the sake of their children's well-being (that's a big if given that they are conditioned to see their relationship as sexual), could I suggest that they maintain a joint living arrangement like this since it would seem to involve making representations at various times to the government (such as when listing the other person as your husband/wife in some official form). That's all I'm asking.


#10

[quote="egosumscotus, post:9, topic:318597"]
- I'm not so sure I would be that optimistic. Governments shut down kids' lemonade stands too because they don't have a business license. If the government somehow discovered that two half-siblings were married (even if it was not their fault) I think there is a 100% chance that they would move to have the marriage declared void. And given that incest is illegal, I don't think they would accept the idea of the children being raised in the same household by a pair of siblings who had a history of sexual activity (even if innocently so on their part). Ergo, child protective custody might get involved.

So getting back to my original question is, let's say I was bishop or pastor confronted with this situation. Even assuming I was confident that this was a morally upright couple who would refrain from sexual activity and live chastely for the sake of their children's well-being (that's a big if given that they are conditioned to see their relationship as sexual), could I suggest that they maintain a joint living arrangement like this since it would seem to involve making representations at various times to the government (such as when listing the other person as your husband/wife in some official form). That's all I'm asking.

[/quote]

I don't see that a lemonade stand is comparable.

I can't really answer your question. I'll wait until the state declares the marriage void. Which they won't. Trying to imagine what to do in hypothetical cases is futile. And until a state declares a marriage null in this case, I'm not going to speculate what the pastoral response should be.

And personally, I don't think they need to remain continent (which is the word you need to use, not chaste).

Why doesn't the state go after the sperm bank?


#11

[quote="Bruised_Reed, post:10, topic:318597"]
I don't see that a lemonade stand is comparable.

I can't really answer your question. I'll wait until the state declares the marriage void. Which they won't. Trying to imagine what to do in hypothetical cases is futile. And until a state declares a marriage null in this case, I'm not going to speculate what the pastoral response should be.

And personally, I don't think they need to remain continent (which is the word you need to use, not chaste).

Why doesn't the state go after the sperm bank?

[/quote]

  1. In my scenario, the pastoral response comes before the state would declare the marriage void, because the state would not know. The point is whether the "married" couple could continue to outwardly represent themselves as married in documents submitted to the IRS, schools, etc. in order to maintain the marital fiction for the sake of the children.

  2. I do think the state would get involved if the knowledge came to them, since it would be the public policy of the state to uphold marriage laws and to not give the civil benefits of marriage to couples who are not eligible to be married. There have been cases where parties have married civilly when one of them innocently thought they were divorced but the divorce was not final. The law doesn't just smooth it over. While they wouldn't be prosecuted for bigamy if it was an innocent mistake, they would not be married to their new spouse until they reapplied for a marriage license and got married again.

  3. Ok, continent rather than chaste. But you seriously think that the half-siblings in this situation could morally engage in sexual relations with each other? Consanguinity is consanguinity.

  4. If us Catholics had our way, there would not be sperm banks. But given that they are unfortunately legal in the present time, they have done nothing legally wrong. They didn't know these two people were going to get married presumably.


#12

[quote="egosumscotus, post:11, topic:318597"]
1. In my scenario, the pastoral response comes before the state would declare the marriage void, because the state would not know. The point is whether the "married" couple could continue to outwardly represent themselves as married in documents submitted to the IRS, schools, etc. in order to maintain the marital fiction for the sake of the children.

  1. I do think the state would get involved if the knowledge came to them, since it would be the public policy of the state to uphold marriage laws and to not give the civil benefits of marriage to couples who are not eligible to be married. There have been cases where parties have married civilly when one of them innocently thought they were divorced but the divorce was not final. The law doesn't just smooth it over. While they wouldn't be prosecuted for bigamy if it was an innocent mistake, they would not be married to their new spouse until they reapplied for a marriage license and got married again.

  2. Ok, continent rather than chaste. But you seriously think that the half-siblings in this situation could morally engage in sexual relations with each other? Consanguinity is consanguinity.

  3. If us Catholics had our way, there would not be sperm banks. But given that they are unfortunately legal in the present time, they have done nothing legally wrong. They didn't know these two people were going to get married presumably.

[/quote]

If the state came to notice that their marriage was void and that they had knowledge of this, they could be prosecuted for fraud in filing their IRS forms. They could pretend they were married for the sake of the children, but lying to the state could bring legal penalties.


#13

[quote="Stillness, post:12, topic:318597"]
If the state came to notice that their marriage was void and that they had knowledge of this, they could be prosecuted for fraud in filing their IRS forms. They could pretend they were married for the sake of the children, but lying to the state could bring legal penalties.

[/quote]

  • Right, exactly. But I am not so interested in the legal danger because, let's face it, since the spouses' common parent came through a sperm bank, there is probably .01% chance that the state would ever discover this, so long as they don't tell anyone. In the article I read, the couple discovered their consanguinity when they consulted sperm bank records.

But my question is would it be moral to, for example, list X as my wife on a tax record knowing that civilly she could not be my wife and under Church law she couldn't be my wife, but based upon the counsel of the Church given the unusual circumstance that it is acceptable to maintain a marital fiction for the sake of the kids.


#14

[quote="egosumscotus, post:13, topic:318597"]
- Right, exactly. But I am not so interested in the legal danger because, let's face it, since the spouses' common parent came through a sperm bank, there is probably .01% chance that the state would ever discover this, so long as they don't tell anyone. In the article I read, the couple discovered their consanguinity when they consulted sperm bank records.

But my question is would it be moral to, for example, list X as my wife on a tax record knowing that civilly she could not be my wife and under Church law she couldn't be my wife, but based upon the counsel of the Church given the unusual circumstance that it is acceptable to maintain a marital fiction for the sake of the kids.

[/quote]

I can't give a great deal of insight on the moral nature of it, given that I do not know Church specifics in that regard. But from the way you make it sound, the facade the Church says they are allowed to maintain is for appearence only, in order to keep the children from embarassment. I doubt that it would morally extend to maintaining the legal benefits, as that could be seen as both lying and stealing from the civil government in the eyes of the Church.


#15

[quote="egosumscotus, post:11, topic:318597"]
1. In my scenario, the pastoral response comes before the state would declare the marriage void, because the state would not know. The point is whether the "married" couple could continue to outwardly represent themselves as married in documents submitted to the IRS, schools, etc. in order to maintain the marital fiction for the sake of the children.

[/quote]

Then my pastoral response would be to get a lawyer to help make their marriage civilly valid. Of the reasons that a marraige between sibllings is illegal, one is sort of moot (the children already exist) and the other doesn't apply in their case.

The main problem I see is that is could take years to do this and it might put the family in the spotlight. But if it could be handled privately (and many family cases are heard privately) and quickly, they should try so the family could stay intact and to maintain the benefits of an intact family.

I might also have then contact the Catholic bio-Ethics Center or contact them on their behalf. Church law and civil law will have to hurry and catch-up to the consequences of the misuse of human sexuality (the use of sperm donors, the use of IVF, etc.)

  1. I do think the state would get involved if the knowledge came to them, since it would be the public policy of the state to uphold marriage laws and to not give the civil benefits of marriage to couples who are not eligible to be married. There have been cases where parties have married civilly when one of them innocently thought they were divorced but the divorce was not final. The law doesn't just smooth it over. While they wouldn't be prosecuted for bigamy if it was an innocent mistake, they would not be married to their new spouse until they reapplied for a marriage license and got married again.

But I would be surprised if the state would because I'm not certaint he state could apply the laws in this case. I think a lawyer could make this case an exception if the state got involved.

  1. Ok, continent rather than chaste. But you seriously think that the half-siblings in this situation could morally engage in sexual relations with each other? Consanguinity is consanguinity.

As I said above, the reasons for consanguinity being a problem are irregular in this case. Yes, I do think they could morally engage in sexual relations because the circumstances of their situation don't fit the reasons that it's prohibited.

If they already have children, they would probably have a clue if their children were now at increased risk of some disorder. But that can stand alone as the reason otherwise couples who were carriers of something like Tay-Sachs disease wouldn't be allowed to marry or have children.

  1. If us Catholics had our way, there would not be sperm banks. But given that they are unfortunately legal in the present time, they have done nothing legally wrong. They didn't know these two people were going to get married presumably.

True. They didn't "know" they would get married but they are first in the chain of this problem. They have the records and should know how many times a sample was used and be able to calculate the chances of half-siblings coming into contact with each other. Just the fact that a sample was used more than once means there is this possibilty. The sperm bank is profiting and by the time it's a problem the business might not even exist so no one there cares.


#16
  • I just don’t think there is any ground is the civil law to make such exceptions. It isn’t like canon law where there is flexibility built into the system in the same way. Maybe a sympathetic judge would craft some kind of activist exception, but the law itself doesn’t provide for exceptions to be made. Also, even if the lawyer would counsel that the civil law might allow an exception, this would be a hugely public legal battle and would, at best, have a slim chance of succeeding. This would seem to defeat the goal of the couple which would be to keep their irregular marriage on the downlow for the sake of the kids. The whole question I was asking is whether the couple, having been advised pastorally that it is acceptable to maintain the marriage in the eyes of the Church (with or without sex, see below) is justified in making misrepresentations to the wider society.
  • You may be right. I took my cue from the current Code which says in Canon 1078, n.3 that a dispensation is never given in the direct line or in the second of the collateral line. That would seem to answer the question. But I was researching this and found a canon law text online that referenced a case from the 1970s when Paul VI allegedly gave a dispensation for a half-sibling couple who had been raised apart for their whole lives (and presumably didn’t know of their relation when they got married) to have their marriage convalidated. But whether the Church allows them to maintain marital relations or not, that still doesn’t solve their civil problem vis a vis can they claim the civil benefits or marriage and represent themselves as married in the civil sense when the civil law would declare their marriage void.
  • I don’t know what the law is in California where this case supposedly originated. I think some jurisdictions have limits on the number of times a man can donate, but there is no law that prohibits them from giving the same man’s sperm to various women. So I don’t think there is any basis to charge the sperm bank, not that that would help the half-sibling couple in terms of whether the civil law would see their marriage as void anyway.

#17

[quote="egosumscotus, post:16, topic:318597"]
- I just don't think there is any ground is the civil law to make such exceptions. It isn't like canon law where there is flexibility built into the system in the same way. Maybe a sympathetic judge would craft some kind of activist exception, but the law itself doesn't provide for exceptions to be made. Also, even if the lawyer would counsel that the civil law might allow an exception, this would be a hugely public legal battle and would, at best, have a slim chance of succeeding. This would seem to defeat the goal of the couple which would be to keep their irregular marriage on the downlow for the sake of the kids. The whole question I was asking is whether the couple, having been advised pastorally that it is acceptable to maintain the marriage in the eyes of the Church (with or without sex, see below) is justified in making misrepresentations to the wider society.

[/quote]

Exception was the wrong word to use but I'm not sure what the legal term would be. Ammended, perhaps? So what I mean is that the law would be changed, ammended or whatever, for specific cases like these. I think it would be easier on everyone, espeically the children, if cases like these would be sorted out. It would be wrong to put a hardship on the parents, which would ultimately affect the children, because of the actions of others.

I don't know how the couple found out but there is the possibility that this could happen again. Sometimes parents don't tell their children they were adopted so there could be other potential "surprises" that are similar. And this thought has been rolling around in my head and I haven't wanted to bring it up but I will: I realize that this could open the door to people who think incest is just fine and they might use this situation to legitimize incest.

As far as "wider society". I just don't trust that most people can keep their noses out of something that isn't their business. Out of all the things that go on in our communities, this (keeping this family's situation private) would seem to have few consequenses. I work in a field where I am privy to things that even family and friends are unaware of, let alone the community at large. And in most cases it's very good that a small number of people know something about what is going on but that most people know nothing about it.

It would be very good for a couple in this situation to have someone to counsel with legally and psychologically as well as pastorally when they needed it. The shouldn't have to go this alone.


#18

You have made up a hypothetical situation and asked a question. the answer to the question is that the couple may morally do whatever they are legally entitled to do vis-a-vis taxes, deductions, etc.

That is all we can say.

If such a couple existed, they would have to consult a lawyer in their state to determine what they could and could not do on taxes, marital status, property, the state of their civil marriag, etc.

They could certainly continue living in the same house, raise their children, and own joint property just as any two or more people can do. One need not be spouses to own property together or live in the same house.

So, all we can say is that they can morally do whatever the law where they live allows them to do. I think you are wasting your time to argue anything else.


#19

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