Twins get married… or maybe not

Last week this story was EVERYWHERE. A pair of twins in Britain, who had been adopted into different families, met and fell in love... without realizing they were twins. They then got married, only to discover the terrible secret they shared. Their marriage was promptly annulled.

When I first read about this, it sounded pretty fishy to me -- very much like an urban legend being reported as news -- but on a cursory reading of the story I also got the impression that there were officials involved who knew about the case but couldn't disclose the identity of the twins. So I accepted the news as true. I think the paragraph in the BBC report linked to above that got me was this one:

Mo O'Reilly, director of child placement for the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, said the situation was traumatic for the people involved, but incredibly rare.

To me, this sounded as if Mo O'Reilly actually knew about the case first-hand. Unfortunately, I didn't read the article closely enough. Apparently the only person who knew about the case was Lord Alton who used it as an example during a House of Lords debate on the Human Fertility and Embryology Bill. Lord Alton had heard about the case "from a judge who was involved." In other words, the source is a FOAF (friend of a friend), one of the classic signs of an urban legend.

Jon Henley of the Guardian summarizes the situation:

Here's the thing: it all came from a single remark more than a month ago by the vehemently anti-abortion Roman Catholic peer and father of four, Lord Alton, in favour of all children having the right to know the identity of their biological parents.
He had heard about this particular case, he said, from the judge who handled the annulment. Or perhaps (he later admitted) a judge who was "familiar with the case". Britain's top family judge, Sir Mark Potter, has never heard of the story. And, as the excellent Heresy Corner blog notes, the whole thing is statistically improbable, procedurally implausible (for 40 years, adoption practice has been to keep twins together) and based on the equivalent of a friend in the pub saying, "Hey, I heard the most amazing story the other day."

So it looks like this piece of news needs to be categorized as an urban-legend-reported-as-news until proven otherwise. (Thanks, Joe)

Birth/Babies Journalism Sex/Romance Urban Legends

Posted on Tue Jan 15, 2008


I saw a movie or TV show where this was the basic plot.

Not that it isn't possible, but without any details, this is obviously just a rumor.
Posted by Joe  on  Tue Jan 15, 2008  at  12:24 PM
I jsut knew this whole thing was a complete and utter load of tripe - yet it's still being reported as news in some places!
Posted by Nona  in  London  on  Wed Jan 16, 2008  at  05:27 AM
Heresy Corner, c'est moi.
Posted by Heresiarch  on  Wed Jan 16, 2008  at  05:35 AM
Anyone spotted the "directors" name yet. Mo O'Reilly - ORLY?
Posted by grazza  in  uk  on  Wed Jan 16, 2008  at  06:30 AM
Good work Alex! One of your best pieces in quite some time...
Posted by coit  on  Wed Jan 16, 2008  at  01:05 PM
This is roughly the plot of a number of (fictional) movies, plays, novels, myths, and legends going back at least to Elizabethan times, and probably into antiquity: Long-lost siblings (not necessarily twins) meet and fall in love, and complications ensue when the plot is revealed. The John Sayles movie "Lone Star" comes to mind, for example.
As Joe says, such a thing is a theoretical possibility, of course (though the odds of it happening at random are probably vanishingly small), but I want to see some names, places, and dates before I believe it happened.
Posted by Big Gary  in  Dublin, Texas  on  Wed Jan 16, 2008  at  01:16 PM
Grazza, I think the adoption director's name is mistyped, with the word break in the wrong place, and the second "O" misplaced: It should be "More Oilly."
Posted by Big Gary  in  Dublin, Texas  on  Wed Jan 16, 2008  at  01:20 PM
"This is roughly the plot of a number of (fictional) movies, plays, novels, myths, and legends going back at least to Elizabethan times, and probably into antiquity. . ."
-- Posted by Big Gary

Sophocles' Oedipus Rex has something somewhat similar, though with a mother and son instead. It's certainly a story and a taboo that have gone back about as far in Western culture as just about anything else does.
Posted by Accipiter  on  Wed Jan 16, 2008  at  03:20 PM
Wait - didn't this almost happen in the Star Wars movies? Leia did give Luke a pretty passionate kiss in Empire Strikes back
Posted by Nona  in  London  on  Thu Jan 17, 2008  at  05:39 AM
Ooh... Princess Leia... Raoul likes that name much because it says many things, yes? But I don't know that any one who takes the care of children should be named "Mo", okay? Hey, Mister Mo, can you tuck me in, hey, Mister Mo, can you help me change into the jammies, hey Mister Mo, can you hold the can while Raoul throws up his dinner, okay? He should be ashamed of him self, and be forced to watch George Bush speeches, until his head explodes like a ripe pinata. Mister Mo, not Bush, okay, so don't come get Raoul. Hah ha ha, I am sorry, but these things must be said, some times. Rrrraoul
Posted by Raoul  on  Thu Jan 17, 2008  at  06:51 PM
Lord Alton is not a reliable source of info on anything, let alone an area where the RC Church have "opinions".
Posted by Robert N  in  London, UK  on  Fri Jan 18, 2008  at  08:03 AM
Not to mention opera - Wagner used the same idea in Die Walkure.
Posted by The Earl King  on  Mon Jan 21, 2008  at  02:17 PM
Yup - sounds like an urban myth to me - time frame is undefined, names unknown, location is undefined and we have the authority figure apparently giving credence to the whole story; usually it's a policeman or a doctor, this one uses a judge.

Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence.
Posted by Wonkey Monkey  on  Sat Jan 26, 2008  at  06:49 AM
I know this is not going to go down as authoritative by an American audience, but BBC World Service had an article on a couple in Germany, who though not twins, were siblings who had been seperated among adoptive parents, then met at University and were married before anyone realised the connection. What is worse, more such couples were interviewed in the States.

There is talk in the Netherlands that with clean genetic screening results, consanguinous marriages may be made legal in certain circumstances. like most rumours, there are some facts behind it all.
Posted by DFStuckey  in  Auckland New Zealand  on  Fri Feb 15, 2008  at  01:52 AM
I think this is just a rumor rolleyes
Posted by Fairings  in  Canada  on  Tue Sep 02, 2008  at  11:39 PM
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