Posted by: Dan Savage
Topic: Should romantically involved cousins be permitted to marry? What if they have children--does that put a different spin on the situation?
Anti-gay marriage pundits will no doubt blame our discussion of this topic on the gays—they blame everything else on us, from bestiality to polygamy to out-of-wedlock births. So why not cousin marriage?
Because you should look outside your family, says Greg and Amiira. But cousins can, as Dr. Helen points out, be far enough outside our families to avoid thumbs sticking out of foreheads and other perils of inbreeding. (Funny, I haven't noticed any thumbs sticking out of Prince Charles' forehead--and he's the product of a thousand years of inbreeding.)
But in good gay fashion I'd like undermine—undermining is what we do best (see, "Rome, fall of Empire"; "Marriage in the United States, Collapse of")—our premise. When we ask "should romantically involved cousins be allowed to marry," we imply that romantically involved cousins are not currently allowed to marry. They are. A few facts from CousinCouples.com...
Fact: 26 states allow first cousin marriages; Most people can marry their cousin in the US.
Fact: US prohibitions against cousin marriages predate modern genetics. Hmmm....
Fact: No European country prohibits marriage between first cousins. It is also legal throughout Canada and Mexico to marry your cousin. The USA is the only western country with cousin marriage restrictions.
Fact: Children of non-related couples have a 2-3% risk of birth defects, as opposed to first cousins having a 4-6% risk. Genetic counseling is available for those couples that may be at a special risk for birth defects (e.g. You have a defect that runs in your family) In plain terms first cousins have at a 94 percent + chance of having healthy children. Check the links section for more information on genetic counselors. The National Society of Genetic Counselors estimated the increased risk for first cousins is between 1.7 to 2.8 percent, or about the same a any woman over 40 years of age.
Fact: Second cousins have little, if any increased chance of having children with birth defects, per the book "Clinical Genetics Handbook”– courtesy of the March of Dimes.
Fact: The frequency of cousin marriages in the USA is about 1 in 1,000
Fact: The frequency of cousin marriages in Japan is about 4 in 1,000
Fact: It is estimated that 20 percent of all couples worldwide are first cousins. It is also estimated that 80 percent of all marriages historically have been between first cousins!
So... cousin couples are getting married every day, and the risks of birth defects when cousins marry and have children—and not all married couple have children—is low, comparable to older women having children, which is increasingly the norm as couples in USA put off having children. If we're going to ban cousin marriages out of an overblown concern for genetic defects, we would have to compel women to have babies before age 40 or not have babies at all. And no one is proposing that.
For the record: I am not in favor of any weakening the incest taboo. I'm against, oh, brother-sister marriage, father-daughter flings, mother-son anything at all. And I'm willing to concede that a certain discomfort with cousin marriage is a small price to pay if it reinforces the good ol' incest taboo. But it's not illegal in a majority—barely—of US states and it shouldn't be illegal in any of them.