Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 83.djvu/522

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518
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
 

PSM V83 D522 Athlete making standing high jump.jpg

Athlete Making Standing High Jump.

 

LEGAL LIMITATIONS OF MARRIAGE

A Pennsylvania law became operative in August, requiring those wishing to marry to appear at the license bureau and answer under oath some fifty questions. It is rather absurd to swear that one is not an imbecile, and a physician's certificate, as required by a law passed by the last Colorado legislature, is a better guard against communicable disease than a statement of the patient. Still such a law may be of use, though not so much in punishment following its violation as in the reflections and precautions which it may occasion in those who propose to marry. The laws of the different states limiting marriage relations have recently been summarized in a bulletin prepared by Dr. Charles B. Davenport and issued by the Eugenics Record Office. They are more numerous and complicated than most people suppose.

Marriages of idiots and the insane are illegal in about half the states and those marriages are presumably invalid everywhere, as such persons can not make contracts. On similar grounds in three states a marriage is invalid when one of the parties is intoxicated. Only five states forbid the marriage of those suffering from venereal disease. It should surely be made as serious a crime to communicate diseases as to commit larceny or assault and battery, and public sentiment would probably uphold legislation to this effect. In only a few cases have laws been passed with direct reference to the eugenic aspect of the case. Connecticut and Kentucky forbid illicit union with imbeciles, the latter state under penalty of twenty years' imprisonment. In Delaware a child of a parent insane before it was born can not marry. In Utah, an epileptic woman may marry after the age of forty-five, but not before.

Laws limiting closeness of relationship in marriage are based on social rather than on biological considerations. Indeed we have no scientific knowledge that would enable us to prescribe limits of consanguinity within which marriage is undesirable from the point of view of heredity or eugenics. The marriage of first cousins is illegal in about half of the states, including Pennsylvania and Illinois, yet such marriages have been and are common in all classes of society. The most distinguished family known to the writer