State v. Sharon H.
429 A.2d 1321 (1981)

Facts:

  • Sharon and Dennis H were half-brother and half-sister by blood, born of the same mother, but of different fathers.
  • Sharon, when approximately ten days old, was adopted by the W. family, by whom she was raised, while Dennis became a ward of the State.
  • After reaching maturity, Sharon discovered that she had a half-brother and sought him out.
  • After locating Dennis in the Smyrna Correctional institution and assisting him in obtaining parole, they were married on July 11, 1979.
  • They were later charged with engaging in a prohibited marriage in violation of Delaware statutes.
    • 101(a)(1): “A marriage is prohibited and void between: A person and his or her ancestor, descendant, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, niece, nephew or first cousin…”
    •  Section 102: “The guilty party or parties to a marriage prohibited by s 101 of this title shall be fined $100, and in default of the payment of the fine shall be imprisoned not more than 30 days.”
    • Note: These statutes are commonly termed consanguinity statutes.

History:
The Municipal Court dismissed all charges.

  • The State cannot examine into relationships which as a matter of public policy and law are put at rest with adoption.

Issues:
(1) Whether the adoption eliminates any tie between Sharon and Dennis as a matter of law.
(2) Whether relatives of half-blood are included in the prohibition.

Holdings:
(1) No.
(2) Yes.
Case reversed.

Reasoning:

  • “Although the Delaware Courts have never addressed the issue, other courts which have applied similar statutes have concluded that the policy behind the prohibition of marriages or sexual relations between blood relatives requires the Court to include relatives of half-blood in the prohibition. Given the obvious intent of 13 Del.C. s 101(a)(1) to prohibit marriages between blood relatives, it is clear that a reasonable interpretation…would prohibit the marriage between the appellees.”
  • Appellants cited a number of cases in an (unsuccessful) attempt to argue that the effect of adoption ends all relationships between the adopted child and its natural family:
    • “However, these cases deal exclusively with either the question of the child’s right to inherit from the adopted parents, or the question of the effect of the adoption on the rights and duties of the natural parents as to the adopted child. The cases do not in any fashion address the issue presently before the Court, and so are irrelevant to the present question.”
  • In short, this case came down to the legislative intent behind the statutes.
  • Prof: Consanguinity (blood) cannot be destroyed, while affinity (legal) can.

Rule: Adoption does NOT eliminate a blood relation so as to allow marriage.
Rule: Half-siblings are still included in the definition of incestuous marriage.