Marrying your sibling by accident: myth or reality?

In what may very possibly be a piece of “fake news” (aka “lies”), the Mississippi Herald website reported that a married couple had discovered they were twins after they went to a fertility clinic to find out why the wife was failing to conceive

According to the report, they had been separated at an early age when their parents died in a car crash and, because of what the report describes as “a filing error”, neither family knew that its foster-child had a twin. A lab assistant at the IVF clinic in Jackson, Mississippi, noticed their DNA samples were remarkably similar and alerted the doctor who was treating them. The doctor realised that they were very closely related, then discovered that they had been born on the same day in 1984 and had no choice but to break the news to them. Unsurprisingly, their marriage – if they exist at all – would be void under MS Code § 93-7-1 (2015), which declares that “All bigamous or incestuous marriages are void, and a declaration of nullity may be obtained at the suit of either party.”

The Mirror Online believes – on seemingly good grounds – that the story is fake: its investigations have failed to discover any evidence that there is a newspaper called the Mississippi Herald; the night editor of the Mississippi Sun-Herald – which has been publishing since 1884 – has denied all knowledge of its existence; its domain,, was first registered as recently as 2 November 2016; and the site does not display either a business address, a telephone number or an e-mail contact.

But whether the report of the Mississippi case is true or not, it points up both the potential (but admittedly unlikely) problem of marriage by opposite-sex twins separated at birth and the more general one of fertilisation by donor gametes without any kind of publicly-accessible record of biological parentage.

Daniel Hill, of Liverpool University’s Department of Philosophy – who helpfully brought the report to my attention and, even more helpfully, alerted me to the possibility that it might be total moonshine – noted that there were press reports of a similar English case which had quoted an unnamed High Court judge whose remarks were reported by Lord Alton in a debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in 2007. No-one has ever traced the case in question; and it has been suggested that the judge might have been talking about a hypothetical situation rather than a real one.

But whether the English case was hypothetical or real, when the issue was raised in the Lords in 2007 Professor Allan Pacey – at the time the Secretary of the British Fertility Society and more recently its Chair – objected to Lord Alton’s proposal that the genetic history of a child should be recorded on the long birth certificate, on the grounds that to do so would potentially stigmatise donor-conceived children. He also suggested that would-be parents might try to avoid the issue of registration altogether by using a friend to donate sperm or by going abroad for fertility treatment. Finally, he pointed out that about 3.5 percent of children are not, biologically speaking, their father’s in any case, with the number rising to as many as 20 per cent in socio-economically deprived areas – so he reckoned that the risk of two donor-conceived siblings unknowingly having children together was “much smaller than it would be of marrying your half-brother or -sister in an inner-city housing estate.”

And certainly much smaller than the chance of being taken in by a spoof news story…

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Marrying your sibling by accident: myth or reality?" in Law & Religion UK, 18 April 2017,


4 thoughts on “Marrying your sibling by accident: myth or reality?

  1. But wasn’t there a well-documented story from Germany a few years back about sibs who’d been separated at the end of the War, and had subsequently met, married and had children, but when their sib identities emerged (I don’t recall how), the State authorities proceeded to annul the marriage; the couple then appealed, both for their own sakes and their children’s, but lost in the Court of Appeal? – As I recall, I read about this on the BBC at the time (not in the Denver Advertiser, which I have encountered in other cases from one of the parallel universes).

    (PS: Why can’t I delete the link that appears, when posting this Comment, to a ‘gravatar’ page in my name which I know nothing about and do not wish to explore any further?)

    • Thanks: now you mention it, it rings a very faint bell in the lumber-room that passes for my memory.

      Re your PS, I’ve no idea but I suspect it may be some strange glitch in WordPress. You’ve posted a comment on a previous occasion and it evidently didn’t happen then, but the system seems to think you’re a different Keith Battarbee (as if there could be two people with that name, both interested in law & religion). I fear that though WordPress is pretty good, it’s not perfect.

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