Weird World: German brother and sister, who've had four kids, are fighting incest laws so they can live together
Brother and sister fight Germany's incest laws – by Kate Connolly in Berlin /The Guardian
A German brother and sister are challenging the law against incest so that they can continue their relationship free from the threat of imprisonment.
Patrick Stübing, an unemployed locksmith, and his sister Susan have had four children together since starting a sexual relationship in 2000. Three of the children are in foster care, and two have unspecified disabilities.
The couple, who live near Leipzig, grew up separately and only met many years later. Their supporters say they will fight until incest is no longer regarded as a criminal offence, arguing that the law is out of date. They say it harks back to the racial hygiene laws of the Third Reich and should be overturned in favour of freedom of choice and sexual determination. Detractors insist that incest should remain a social taboo, largely because of the risks linked to inbreeding and the imbalance in social relations it inevitably causes.
A film and a book are planned about the Stübings, who remain defiant about breaking one of the few remaining sexual taboos in western society.
Mr Stübing, 30, has spent over two years behind bars for having sex with his sister and faces another prison sentence if paragraph 173 of the legal code is not overturned. His sister has never been imprisoned because she has always been tried as an adolescent.
The couple were born into the same family but Patrick was already living apart from his mother when his sister was born. After a life spent in children's homes, Mr Stübing was reunited with his mother, Annemarie, in Leipzig in 2000, when he met his sister for the first time. Six months after the reunion, their mother died of a heart attack.
The siblings fell in love, and their son Eric was born in 2002, followed by Sarah, now 4, Nancy, 3, and Sofia, 1. Two of the children are known to have disabilities, although it is not known whether they are a result of inbreeding, or because they were born prematurely. All the children except Sofia have been taken into foster care. Mr Stübing has since been sterilised.
Speaking to a German newspaper, Mr Stübing said the couple decided to have more children after the authorities took their first-born away. "The younger children might not have been born had they not taken the first one from us," he said. "We just want to make sure that we don't lose everything again."
Ms Stübing shook her head when asked if the couple felt guilty about their relationship. "No," she said. "I just want us to be able to live together."
Addressing the issue of two of the children's disabilities, Mr Stübing would only say: "It's true that Eric has epilepsy, but otherwise everything's fine with him."
"Our aim is to get paragraph 173 abolished," Ms Stübing said. "And I would like to have my children back again."
Germany's courts have not doubted the earnest nature of the relationship. But in German law sex with a close relative is forbidden and punishable by up to three years in prison.
Endrik Wilhelm, the couple's lawyer, said they had little choice but to fight the existing law. "It's clear, if you face jail, and the only way you can prevent this is by overturning the law, that's what you will try to do," he told the Guardian.
He said that the couple were causing no harm to others. "Everyone should be able to do what he wants as long as it doesn't harm others."
Incest is not illegal in many of Germany's neighbouring countries, he said. The law was a "historical relic".
Napoleon abolished France's incest laws in 1810. Neither is it a crime in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, Portugal or Turkey. Japan, Argentina and Brazil have also legalised it in recent years.
Incest is forbidden in Britain, where the law was extended in 2002 to include not just those with blood ties, but also step-parents and their children and in cases of adoptions.
But opponents of changing the law say it exists for a good purpose.
"When siblings have a child together, there is only a 50% chance that it will be healthy when it is born," said Jürgen Kunze, professor of human genetics at Berlin's Charite hospital.
Germany's constitutional court is expected to decide on the Stübings' appeal in four to six weeks' time.