Can you marry your cousin? (Yes or No?)

In this article, we answer the following question: Can you marry your cousin? We talk about the possible moral and physical consequences of marrying a relative. 

Can you marry your cousin?

Although it is legal to marry your cousin, you should know about the social implications of this type of marriage, and the other potential consequences. 

It is not unusual for many people, in the early years of their adolescence, to feel towards some of their cousins ​​​​the kind of attraction that produces butterflies in the stomach and an indiscreet instant flush. 

That feeling, most of the time an innocent and fleeting crush, on certain occasions goes further and culminates in a full-blown relationship, even at a wedding. And although the subject makes us somewhat hysterical beforehand, on our planet it occurs in a higher percentage than would be expected.

A recent article published in Demographic Research magazine set marriages between primary cousins ​​or second cousins ​​at 10% worldwide. Even so, its authors assure that the percentage has decreased in recent decades. However, there are exceptions: in some countries such as Qatar, the number of couples with a blood relationship is higher now than during the generation of their parents.

In fact, saying “Yes, I do” with a close relative is perfectly legal in almost the entire western world, with a few exceptions. 

In the United States, blood marriages are still prohibited in 31 states, as well as in other territories such as Taiwan, North Korea, China, and South Korea. Another thing is that they are habitual. They are not in the countries around us, but they are in the Middle East, and some regions of North Africa and China. 

With our cousins, ​​we are linked by a fourth-degree relationship, so there would be no problem. In the case of uncles and nephews (third degree), it would be possible, but only with a judicial dispensation. Marrying ancestors, descendants or siblings is completely prohibited.

For demographers, the mechanisms that explain the high rate of marriage between cousins ​​in these territories have to do with social factors. Women, always at a disadvantage, have found in this practice insurance that guarantees protection within the family, unlike what happens to those who decide to divorce, who lose custody of their children in favour of their father and they are left in a sad economic situation. 

Ensuring that family possessions remain within the same lineage is another factor that contributes to many couples opting for this type of marriage. These cultural agents could be related to trust and loyalty to the family, the purity of the family and, between clans, the security of the group,” write the researchers of the aforementioned article.

You might as well like to know about the famous cousin marriages that shocked everyone.

Why we shouldn’t marry our cousins (even if it is legal)

The prohibition of intimate relationships with family members is due to the requirement of the search for alliances. The human being realized that he had to establish alliances with other groups for his own survival and that marrying within the same circle reduced the possibilities of subsisting. 

That is why relationships of affinity and reciprocity began to be established with other circles through the exchange of women. And in this way alliances were forged with a firm and lasting character.

The different civilizations have incorporated this prohibition into their daily lives, but always adapting it to their own needs. In Catholicism, for example, there is this restriction between brothers, fathers and mothers, but not between cousins. The explanation could be found in the need of European monarchs to maintain alliances between kingdoms (that is why family marriages were so common). 

On the other hand, the papal power was limited to the exercise of “notary” because it was a relationship of mutual benefit between both. However, the United States is a country where religion plays a fundamental role in dictating social behaviour: in those states with a greater presence of Protestant sects, laws have been enacted that penalize consanguinity and prevent the expansion of minorities immigrants.

This would explain that, as far as monarchical dynasties are concerned, consanguinity, far from being taboo, is something that is assumed to be normal. 

Geneticists Diane B. Paul and Hamish G. Spencer tell about it in an article that offers an analysis of this from a historical perspective. “The practice was not associated with the aristocracy and the upper-middle-class [Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were second cousins] but with much easier targets: immigrants and the rural poor.

Children with birth defects

Apart from practical reasons, weddings between cousins ​​have also been viewed with critical eyes on health issues: they are said to condemn their heirs to a series of horrible birth defects. 

In 2008, Labor politician Phil Woolas attributed the high percentage of babies born with genetic defects to cousin marriages in the British-Pakistani population. Beyond the racist bias in the commentary, unions of this type among members of this community represent a numerical reality. 

It is about creating links and, therefore, solidarity networks. Today, the family is the social security of many countries. Now, in extreme conditions, it can create blood-related problems.

What kind of problems, specifically? During the 1970s, Alan Bittles, a fellow at the Center for Comparative Genomics at Murdoch University (Australia), realized that the health problems that descendants of cousins ​​would have to face were not as severe as had been thought until then. 

In 2002, Bittles and a dozen other scientists reported in the Journal of Genetic Counseling that the chance of inheriting genetic disorders or diseases such as spina bifida or cystic fibrosis was only 1.7% higher than in the rest of the population (almost 4%), while the mortality rate stood at 4.4%. The same number faced by women who give birth over 40 years old. 

Those who oppose this practise claim that it is a way to multiply by two the chances of babies suffering from inherited disease. For Bittles, the difference is quite small. “Most will be as healthy as any other child in the community,” he said in an interview for The Guardian.

Years later, Bittles and a colleague by profession published a report in which they claimed that mortality had dropped almost a point (to 3.5%) among the children of consanguineous marriages, and they took care to highlight other factors to the time to influence results such as “demographic, social and economic”.

Geneticists Paul and Spencer endorsed Bittles’ assumptions and reinforced the theory that he sometimes errs by failing to separate a genetic problem from socioeconomic and environmental factors. “Inbred communities like the British-Pakistani often have little income. The mother may be malnourished, and families may not have access to good prenatal care, which, in turn, may not be available in their native language.”

However, a study published in The Lancet confirmed that British-Pakistanis are twice as 

likely to suffer sudden infant death syndrome compared to children of parents without a family relationship, and that “congenital abnormalities are the most common cause of death in children under the age of 12 in this ethnic group. ” 

According to data from The Independent newspaper, in the city of Bradford, 18% of marital unions are between cousins and 37% of them between the Pakistani community.

Despite the positions found, the genetic material is implacable and continues to have a weight that is difficult to ignore in the physical development of the human being.  

Unions between family members carry a higher risk when developing hereditary diseases. The explanation is that these appear when the patient presents alterations in the two copies of the same gene. 

That is, if only one of the parents presents one of the two altered copies of the gene, their descendants will be carriers of a genetic alteration, but will not develop the disease. However, if a carrier has offspring with another person also carrier, it is possible that this disease occurs in their children.

Furthermore, there is a greater chance that recessive diseases will manifest. A frequent example in our environment is that of cystic fibrosis. This disease, although it can appear in the context of unrelated families, is more frequent when the parents have a relationship of consanguinity.

Therefore, to avoid possible complications, these couples must receive adequate genetic counselling. Thus, after making a correct personal and family history, you can assess the risk of suffering an illness. In this way, they will receive all the information necessary to carry out safe family planning. 

Currently, there are genetic methods that allow us to know the carrier status of some of these recessive diseases. Only then will it be possible to make a decision taking into account all the possibilities.

If you’re married to your cousin, or anybody and you claim ‘I want a divorce’, you should be aware of what you need to do for it.

Even if you don’t want one, you should still be aware of the procedures just in case.

A famous case 

Charles Darwin and his wife, Emma Darwin, were primary cousins. The famous naturalist and geologist married her in 1839 on one of her field trips, after her doctor assured her that she must rest to avoid further health problems. 

This practice was not new: the two families had been practising inbreeding among their members for several generations. Darwin had ten children: three of them died prematurely and one died from scarlet fever. 

A study carried out by two researchers from the University of Santiago de Compostela and the University of Ohio (USA) certified that the high rate of ailments and the level of mortality among their children was due to the relationship of kinship between their parents. 

Darwin was concerned about the constant diseases suffered by his children, so he devoted a good part of his study time to check the effect of inbreeding on more than 27 different species of plants. The dread he felt was such that he even raised the issue of consanguinity in Parliament. 

In 2014, scientists conducted another report, in which they analyzed the genetic material of more than 176 children of the Darwin-Wedgwood ancestry. They concluded that among them there was a high mortality rate and that the “fault” of infertility among some consanguineous couples was the male, not both.

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Conclusions

In this article, we answered the following question: Can you marry your cousin? We talked about the possible moral and physical consequences of marrying a relative. 

Although it is legal to marry your cousin, you should know about the social implications of this type of marriage, and the other potential consequences. 

Unions between family members carry a higher risk when developing hereditary diseases. The explanation is that these appear when the patient presents alterations in the two copies of the same gene. 

That is, if only one of the parents presents one of the two altered copies of the gene, their descendants will be carriers of a genetic alteration, but will not develop the disease. However, if a carrier has offspring with another person also carrier, it is possible that this disease occurs in their children.

If you’ve enjoyed the ”Can you marry your cousin?” mentioned above, I would recommend you to take a look at ”Can you marry your brother-in-law?” too.

If you have any comments or questions on the content, please let us know!

FAQ on Can you marry your cousin?

Can you marry your cousin in the UK in 2019?

In UK 2019 you can be your cousin. However, many people are against this, as Unions between family members carry a higher risk when developing hereditary diseases. 

Is it wrong to marry your cousin?

Many consider that it is wrong to marry your cousin since it can lead to harmful genetic conditions. It would also probably make things really awkward at the family meetings. 

What does the Bible say about marrying your cousin?

The Bible does not say anything about marrying your cousin. However, it is mentioned that sexual relations with several other close relatives are prohibited. 

Is it illegal to sleep with your cousin?

In most countries, yes it is illegal to sleep with your cousin, parent, grandparent, sibling. 

What we recommend for Relationship & LGBTQ issues

Relationship counselling

  • If you are having relationship issues or maybe you are in an abusive relationship then relationship counselling could be your first point of call. Relationship counselling could be undertaken by just you, it does not require more than one person.

LGBTQ issues

If you are dealing with LGBTQ issues then LGBTQ counselling may be a great option for you. Maybe you are confused as to your role and identity or simply need someone to speak to. LGBTQ counsellors are specially trained to assist you in this regard.

References

Legislation.gov.uk – Marriage (Prohibited Degrees of Relationship) Act 1986

Genetic-genealogy.co.uk   -FORBIDDEN MARRIAGE LAWS OF THE UNITED KINGDOM

Familytreeforum.com -Forbidden Marriages

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