Y. Carson Zhou


Is the criminalization of consensual sex between close relatives constitutional in the wake of Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell v. Hodges? Justice Scalia thought not. The substantive due process landscape has changed dramatically in response to the LGBTQ movement. Yet, when a girl in a sexual relationship with her father recently revealed in an anonymous interview with New York Magazine that they were planning to move to New Jersey, one of the only two states where incest was legal, the New Jersey legislature introduced with unprecedented speed a bill criminalizing incest. But who has the couple harmed? The very mention of incest conjures fears of deformed babies, yet when people think about sex in most other contexts, procreation is the last thing on their minds. Steeped in a nearuniversal incest taboo, judges are unlikely to strike down incest legislation any time soon. But they must still respond to any constitutional challenge in the language of the law. This Article evaluates the constitutionality of criminalizing sexual relationships between first-degree relatives. First, the Article situates incest statutes within the sociological incest taboo and the biological mechanism known as the Westermarck Effect. It asserts that incest laws are counter-natural exercises in socio-biological engineering. Second, it argues that incest cannot be excluded from the fundamental rights to sexual intimacy and reproduction. Third, it questions the constitutional sufficiency of a range of possible government interests, and the tailoring of existing laws to those interests. Fourth, it proposes revised statutory language that would prohibit certain incestuous relationships without violating the constitution. The Article concludes by suggesting that norms against incest, like norms against same-sex relationships, can change and may already be changing.