New York’s highest court gave its blessings Tuesday to marriages that are all in the family.
Despite the ick factor, a union between a half-uncle and his half-niece is not incestuous under New York’s Domestic Relations Law, according to the unanimous Court of Appeals ruling.
The court said a marriage in which the groom is the half-brother of the bride’s mother poses about the same genetic risk as marriages between first cousins.
“First cousins are allowed to marry in New York, and I conclude that it was not the Legislature’s purpose to avert the similar, relatively small genetic risk inherent in relationships like this one,” wrote Judge Robert Smith, a Republican.
The case involves a 19-year-old Huyen Nguyen of Vietnam, who married her 24-year-old half-uncle, Vu Truong, of Rochester, N.Y., in 2000.
The bride’s grandmother — Nguyen Thi Ba — was also the groom’s mother. The groom, however, had a different father than the bride’s mother. In 2007, an immigration judge ruled the marriage was bogus and ordered the bride deported. A federal appeals court, however, asked New York's highest court to decide whether such marriages were, in fact, legal under state law.
The Court of Appeals found that while marriages between uncles and nieces or aunts and nephews were expressly prohibited, there was no such prohibition on relations between half-blooded uncles and nieces, or half-blooded aunts and nephews.
While the decision was unanimous, Judge Victoria Graffeo and two other judges suggested the state Legislature should revisit the issue.
“Such relationships could implicate one of the purposes underlying incest laws, i.e., ‘maintaining the stability of the family hierarchy by protecting young family members from exploitation by older family members in positions of authority, and by reducing competition and jealous friction among family members,’ ” Graffeo wrote.
Michael Marszalkowski, an attorney for the couple, hailed the decision and insisted Huyen’s marriage was not done for immigration purposes. “They have stayed together for 14 years and counting,” he said.
Marszalkowski said the couple deny being related to each other but lower courts — based on evidence supplied by the groom’s sister — concluded they were.
“This really was an all-or-nothing issue for them,” he said. “If this would have been denied, she would have been deported and sent back to Vietnam.”
About a half dozen other states, Marszalkowski said, allow such marriages. The Rev. Jason McGuire, executive director of conservative group New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, saw danger signs in the court’s decision. “If government’s only interest in marriage is who loves each other, than what logical stopping point is there?” McGuire said.
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