Marriage Laws

On October 19th, I935, entered into force the "Gesetz zum Schutze der Erbgesundheit des deutschen Volkes." This expressly forbids marriages where one of the parties suffers from an infectious disease, is under a form of guardianship, suffers from a mental disorder, or suffers from a hereditary disease in the sense of the sterilization laws. Before marriage, certificates must be obtained from the appropriate authority to the effect that no hindrance exists on any of the above grounds. Marriages which violate the law are null and void, and the parties are liable to imprisonment, as also for attempting to get around the law, for example by marrying abroad. Marriages between " Aryans " and full Jews are also forbidden. The full Jew may only marry the full Jew. Half Jews, if they accept the Jewish faith, are reckoned as full Jews. Otherwise they may only marry half Jews. Quarter Jews may not marry their like, but only " Aryans."

    The certificate allowing marriage has to be obtained from the local health office ("Gesundheitsamt"). These are being set up all over Germany in every district which does not yet possess one. They correspond in many ways with public health offices in England, but their activities principally consist in carrying out the new eugenic measures. At every one of the offices a special office will be set up for giving the certificates required by the above law, and for the administration of the marriage loan. At these clinics every applicant for certificate or marriage loan will receive a careful examination. For this an official form is provided, in which besides an ordinary medical examination the doctor has to note anthropological measurements, type of constitution according to Kretschmer, racial type, twinship, all details of previous illnesses with dates and notes of where treated, so that more exact particulars can be obtained if required. Further the whole family history is gone into, and details are obtained if possible of the great-grandparents, in every case of the grandparents and all their descendants, even, if possible, first cousins. Finally a summary card is drawn up, in which the above facts are summarized, and cross references to data in the possession of other social services are given, e.g. for venereal diseases, cripples, tuberculosis, obstetrics and infant welfare, insanity and psychopathy, alcoholism, school medical service. Here also the " diagnosis " is entered, e.g. non-Aryan, insane, " belastet," criminal, peculiarly gifted, etc. The special gifts, which have to be far above average to receive mention, are mental - for mathematics, languages, organization, art, music, painting, drawing and plastic art; and practical - for manual and technical occupations and sport. Similar details are noted about all members of the family.

    On the basis of these findings a decision is reached as to whether the applicant is to be granted the marriage-enabling certificate, and/or the marriage loan, or as to whether he should be conditionally or unconditionally advised against marriage. The following must be disallowed the marriage loan:

I. Those who suffer or have suffered from the following hereditary abnormalities: hereditary mental defect, schizophrenia, manicdepressive psychosis, idiopathic epilepsy, Huntington's chorea, hereditary blindness, hereditary deafness, severe hereditary physical disability, severe psychopathy, severe constitutional disorder. The deaf, blind and epileptic may only receive the loan when the disorder is clearly to be traced to exogenous causes, and where apart from this the applicant can support a family. Physical disability includes congenital dislocation of the hip, congenital clubfoot, cleft palate, split hand, spina bifida, hereditary narrowed pelvis of such a degree that it is impossible for a child to be born naturally, Friedreich's ataxy, myotonia, progressive muscular dystrophy, hereditary spastic paralysis, dwarfs less than 130 cm. in height. Constitutional disorder includes severe asthenia coupled with other abnormalities or stigmata of degeneration, juvenile diabetes, dystrophia adiposogenitalis, early and severe otosclerosis, severe lymphatism, haemophilia, myxcedema, high-grade infantilism, severe goitre-in regions with endemic goitre only those with cardiac disorder. Among the severe psychopathies are included severe cases of hysteria, homosexuality, alcoholism, drug-addiction, asocial and antisocial psychopaths (presumably includes all at least habitual criminals), and other types of psychopathy, which without being asocial or antisocial "because of its special kind and severity represents a great hindrance in the way of work and pleasure in life," where the said psychopathy shows itself as hereditary. This includes conditions with severe mood changes, depressions, anxiety states, suicidal tendencies, and compulsive symptoms.

II. Those who, without having suffered themselves from any of the above conditions, have families which show or have shown in such a severe degree the presence of hereditary illness that the children of the applicant may be regarded as materially more heavily tainted than the average population. The "Belastung" may be certain or highly probable. Apart from special consideration of the method of inheritance in a given case, it may be assumed that the applicant is "belastet " when one parent, or two siblings, or more than a third of the remaining relatives (grandparents, uncles and aunts), or one sib and two grandparents, suffer from severe and certain hereditary physical or mental abnormality. By this estimation, abnormalities of different kinds are to be reckoned together. Even lesser degree of hereditary taint is sufficient for the rejection of the application, if the proposed partner has a similar degree of tainting. Emphasis is laid on the fact that it must be ascertained that the abnormalities in question are in fact hereditable; mention is made of depressive states and psychoses of short duration, especially at advanced ages, where endocrine disturbances should be thought of as an alternative diagnosis to that of an endogenous psychosis, of symptomatic epilepsy, etc.

III. Those suffering from any infectious disorder likely to affect the health of the partner or the children. This is specially directed against venereal diseases.

IV. Where one of the partners is sterile.

V. Severe alcoholism, where it is superimposed on a basis of "hereditary inferiority," or has led to such destruction of the personality that no satisfactory family life can be expected.

    At the end of the examination one of the following certificates is issued: that the applicant may marry; that he is permanently or temporarily unfit for marriage; that though the findings do not necessarily prove him unsuitable for marriage, he has been advised against the proposed union; that he is sterile and only to be recommended to marry another sterile individual or the subject of an hereditary abnormality; that he is the subject of hereditary disorder and only to be recommended to marry a sterile individual.

    A number of points of great interest arise from these paragraphs. Luxenburger's definition of the scientific conception of " Belastung" goes by the board. Those are to be considered " belastet " who have a considerably greater chance than the average of carrying a pathogenic gene, not only those who theoretically must do so. Hence the government is content to prevent a number of healthy and normal people marrying and propagating, if by so doing a number of abnormal and undesirable people are also prevented. In this connection it is only rational that unlike abnormalities should be reckoned together in determining "Belastung." The heaping up of such abnormalities among the relatives obviously increases the chance of developing some sort of an abnormality, though for example the nephew of a schizophrenic is no more likely to develop schizophrenia for having a halfbrother with a cleft palate. It is possible, however, that this not the basis of this provision, but rather a belief in a general hereditary degenerative diathesis. This view receives support from the official use of such terms as " hereditary inferiority " and such ideas as constitutional asthenia with signs of degeneration.

    The policy with regard to selective breeding seems to have been settled in favour of attempting to keep abnormalities latent, rather than breeding them out. This is shown by the provision that those with a slight degree of " tainting" may marry normal persons but not those with a similar degree of tainting. They are treated in the same way, in fact, as quarter Jews.

    It will be seen that the function of these "Eheberatungsstellen " is a very important one. There is first the immediate and practical one of forbidding undesirable and encouraging desirable unions. A secondary duty will no doubt be notifying cases for sterilization. Thirdly, and of increasing importance with the passage of years, will be the function of these clinics as record offices. The summary cards already referred to are kept in duplicate, one locally, the other forwarded to a central office in Berlin, and are definitely intended for statistical research. If the examinations and records are made even with only moderate care there will soon be provided a complete and fairly exhaustive family record of the whole German people. Such records thrown open to research will provide material of quite incalculable value.

    The marriage loan is of the value of 600 marks (£48). It is given to those certified suitable by the marriage-advice bureaus, and no interest is demanded for the first year. The birth of a child automatically pays back 100 marks and gives another year of interest-free enjoyment of the remainder. It should be a considerable inducement to marriage and have a certain slight effect in promoting the birth of children. Much more effective in this way should be the German income taxsystem. This is exceedingly complicated, but it may be roughly stated that there is a tax on single persons of about 15%. Marriage reduces the amount of tax slightly, the birth of the first and subsequent children very considerably. For poor and middleclass people the possession of four children renders them almost tax-free. All reductions of income tax for children are, unlike in the English system, percentage reductions, so that better-off people get a correspondingly larger actual reduction in tax. From an eugenic point of view this is a much better system.