I’m from Rhode Island. This means many different things. I like Dell’s Lemonade, coffee milk, and I enjoy the mediocrity of Narragansett Beer (especially their coffee stout).
This also means that I, if for some fucked up, perverse reason wanted to, could marry my niece. It’s not just because of religious cults and Tay Sachs and making sure the bloodlines stay pure. It’s because Rhode Island made an exception for Jewish men to marry their nieces. And it’s still on the books today.
Only three states in the U.S. allow some form of niece/uncle marriage, and all of them have conditions. Minnesota and Colorado both allow it if it’s permitted by ‘aboriginal’ culture. I’m unsure if that means native, or ancient, or if it literally means the Aboriginal from Australia. Either way, that’s weird and oddly specific. I didn’t realize Minnesota and Colorado were flush in Aboriginals and Aboriginal uncle/niece troupes looking to tie the knot. Rhode island, on the other hand, allows Jews and only Jews to marry their creepy old uncles.
Marriages of kindred allowed by Jewish religion. – The provisions of §§ 15-1-2 and 15-1-3 shall not extend to, or in any way affect, any marriage which shall be solemnized among the Jewish people, within the degrees of affinity or consanguinity allowed by their religion.
All it would take is one crazy Jewish religious sect to interpret Scriptures to how they see fit and…bam! Old weirdos with smichas (Rabbinic ordination) can be even weirder.
Rhode Island’s Jewish incest laws were codified in 1798. It’s believed that the law was established to show how inviting RI was to Jews living outside of RI. This was in line with Roger William and Rhode Island’s overall views on religious diversity and freedom. The presence of Touro Synagogue in 1763, and the prestige of Jews involved in the early American slave trade certainly had some influence in colonial Rhode Island. So instead of guaranteeing regular religious freedoms, why not tack on some incestuous freedoms, maybe even one from Leviticus? Atleast in the 1700s and 1800s it was a bit less creepy to marry Uncle Shmuley.
You’d think this little-known law wouldn’t be used in modern times, just a record to look at and laugh at and giggle about how weird life used to be. Maybe an occasional Rhode Islander would use it, but it’s not like it could apply to out-of-state Jews, right? Rhode Island has the incest thing down pat. It’s ours and ours only, like a snowflake that likes to have sex with his snowflake relative, right?
Unless you’re a New York Jew, then it’s entirely legal to jump on the incest marriage wagon. A wagon that should have stayed horse-drawn and residing in 1796. Realistically, yeah, I doubt many people are looking for this kind of marriage. Unless you’re in some extreme Jewish cult, it’s not really a concern. (Are you in a Jewish cult? I’d love to interview you…)
Why doesn’t the RI state legislature close this loophole?
You’re really fucking weird sometimes, Rhode Island. (But I love you anyway.)
Read a very interesting scholarly article about this legal loophole, here.