In Rhode Island, Jews Can Marry Their Relatives!


Here’s a legal love story for you.

In 1913, Sam May and Fannie May, a coupla 26-year-old New Yorkers, wanted to get married, but they had to go all the way to Rhode Island to do it. Why all the trouble? Because of one minor detail: Despite being the same age, Sam was Fanny’s uncle, and New York wasn’t into that kind of thing. Rhode Island, however, was okay with blood relations—as long as both were Jews.

In New York, incestuous relationships are prohibited according to Section 5 of Domestic Relations Law. A similar law was in place in Rhode Island, but that state’s version allows for religious tradition to trump secular law.

After thirty-two years of living peacefully in New York, Fannie passed away, leaving her widowed husband Sam in control of her estate. This did not sit well with Alice, one of Sam and Fannie’s six children, who wanted to preside over the estate herself.

To accomplish this—or try—Alice petitioned to have the marriage of her parents nullified on the basis of their incestuous union. The case made it to New York’s highest court, where it ultimately failed. The verdict: if you marry your niece in a state where it’s allowed on religious stipulation, then New York is okay with it. (Though if you’re half-siblings, even your religion won’t help you.)

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