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Should cousin marriage continue to be legally banned?

By January 12, 2009 - 10:55am
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I just read an interesting article citing opinions of two professors, Prof. Hamish Spencer of the University of Otago and Prof. Diane Paul at Harvard, who believe that laws banning marriage between first cousins are outdated. Apparently, while comparing stats from the US National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC), the professors assert that the genetic risks involved with first cousins having children with birth defects is similar to mothers who are over 40. So, since we aren't banning women who are over 40 from having children, we shouldn't ban first cousins from reproducing either. What do you think about this?

Here's the link to the article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081222221535.htm

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EmpowHER Guest

My friend from work actually came from an incest relationship and she has many health issues that are caused from first cousins getting married and having children. She is the first of the incest relationship and her children also have several issues that were caused from the incestual relationship.

I think that due to the nature of the medical issues associated with the relationship, that it should remain banned. The result is that my friend had horrible problems becoming pregnant. Her daughter that recently married is also having issues conceiving a child.
This is just one story that I know of but I am certain that there are several others.

January 18, 2009 - 4:05pm

I'd be interested to see statistics on first cousins marrying, and find out more about their demographics. It may be that as a whole, they are younger people in more rural areas and that they simply don't meet as many other people that they aren't related to.

Here's a paragraph from a USA Today story on this:

"Cousin marriage has been widespread in rural societies, where it serves to keep money and property within families. The practice is still popular in much of the Muslim world, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Genetics researcher Alan Bittles estimates that 20% of marriages worldwide are between relatives who are first cousins.

"Genetics counselors say there are no exact figures for the USA, but experience suggests that about one marriage in 1,000 is between first cousins."

Here's the whole story:


January 13, 2009 - 9:37am

There was a time, a long time ago, when marriage between cousins was not only acceptable, but sometimes encouraged. My parents were cousins, albeit very distant.

But, like others have said, I find thinking romantically about a cousin rather bizarre.

As for the birth defects risk, I totally agree with the ban on first cousin marriages on that basis.

January 12, 2009 - 5:45pm

I found it interesting when I read the article that only about 30 or so states actually have a law in place to ban marriage to a first cousin. I guess I'd assumed that it was illegal in every state.

In any case, I'm with you -- I think it's bizarre to even think of your cousin (first or second or third for that matter) in a romantic or sexual way. Yikes. But, I hadn't even thought about the fact that being in your 40's and having a baby would place you in the same genetic risk for birth defects as a if you'd had the baby with your first cousin. That's wild. I only thought there was just an increased risk for Down syndrome.

January 12, 2009 - 1:03pm
HERWriter Guide

On a personal note, because I grew up close to my many first cousins, and they were like siblings to me, the mere notion of marrying one gives me the jitters. No, thank you!

But you're right, statistics of health issues with the off spring of first cousins are similar to that of older mothers. And who are we to say who cannot marry whom? Of course, this leads to the 'slippery slope' argument of why can't consenting brothers and sisters, or mothers and sons marry? BBC America ran a recent documentary called Brothers and Sisters in Love, particularly following a German brother and sister who have several (four or five!) children together, half of whom are very disabled due to their parents sibling relationship and are in the care of the State. The brother (interestingly, not the sister) did prison time for the relationship. The couple have since broken up and she has gone on to have more children with someone else. I think both siblings have more issues going on that just an incestuous relationship. The documentary also followed a mother who gave up her son and met him 20 years later and is now in a sexual relationship with him. I honestly felt sick watching it.

Anyhow, sorry for the digression!

I personally don't know how anyone could find a first cousin attractive because of the way nature forms close family members to have a natural UNattraction and that's how I feel regarding cousins. I remember studying it in an anthropology class in college. I think it was called "consanguination". But maybe it's different for other people, or cousins who meet as adults.

We must also remember that certain groups like the Amish, Mormon polygamous marriages and even the Russian royal families of previous (yet recent) generations having very close family ties and there is evidence of genetic abnormalities due to intermarriage. Most are recessive but not all. Hence the prevalence of hemophilia in these Russian families, and the American Amish who have several disorders, many rare, like Cohen Syndrome. The infant mortality levels amongst polygamous sects in Colorado City, Utah is astounding. Most of these deaths are suspected genetic abnormalities that are kept very quiet. In fact, many of these deaths are only kept in church records, not public or state records. The more humans intermarry and produce children, the more new genetic issues there will be.

Just something to take into account.

Another thought - 6.5 billion people on this earth and the only man or woman someone can find to procreate with is his or her first cousin? Let's get out more!

January 12, 2009 - 12:31pm
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