Trivia Question: What do Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Werner von Braun, H. G. Wells, Martin Van Buren, Abraham Maslow, and Edvard Grieg all have in common? In addition to being famed luminaries who forever changed their respective fields of labor in the sciences, the arts, and politics, they also each of them married a first cousin. John F. Kennedy, one of the more influential American presidents of the 20th century, was the grandson of married first cousins.
Cousin marriage is illegal in the majority of U. S. States (including, thank you very much, Arkansas). Texas's ban on cousin marriage was only recently passed (2005). No state has adopted a more lenient law on cousin marriage in the past century. Marriage between close kin—even closer than cousins—takes place prominently in the Bible. The United States is the only nation in the Western world in which cousin marriage is not universally illegal.
Why? Why do we make it against the law for cousins to marry?
The Genetic Argument: The most common argument against cousin marriage is the suggestion that cousin marriage is not well suited to reproduction. Yet this argument may not be as strong as you may think. Reproduction between people with significant consanguinity does indeed increase the change of recessive genetic traits being passed through to their offspring. However, not all recessive traits can be considered undesirable or classified as a disorder, and not all genetic disorders or undesirable outcomes can be linked to the transmission of recessive genes. Down's Syndrome, for example, is an example of a genetic disorder that is not an expression of a recessive gene, but is instead a transcription error.
The upshot of all of this? Procreation of people over the age of 40 is just as genetically risky as is the procreation of first cousins. The genetic argument really provides little rationale for making cousin marriages illegal.
The Moral Argument: People argue that cousin marriage is incestuous and immoral. Indeed, in many U. S. states, sexual intercourse among cousins legally constitutes incest. The patchwork status of U. S. law on this front means that some marriages, although perfectly legal in Mississippi, are felonious in Texas.
Nevertheless, although sexual relationships among siblings or lineal descendants is forbidden in the Bible, one would utterly fail to demonstrate any biblical prohibition against cousin marriage. Rather, the marriage of Isaac to his first-cousin-once-removed Rebekkah is presented as a good and holy thing and even a part of the lineage of Christ. Abraham himself was married to his half-sister, and levirate marriage laws meant that a man might plausibly be commanded to marry his cousin.
It is difficult to find a good moral argument against cousin marriage.
And yet, while a tidal wave has swept this nation against cousin marriage in the last century and continuing through today, an incipient wave of the legalization of same sex marriage is beginning to move in the United States. Let's consider a comparison of the two:
|Homosexual Marriage||Cousin Marriage|
|Biological||A biological nightmare. Homosexual intercourse has given to the world a fertile locus for the breeding and transmission of disease and is responsible for the gruesome deaths of many of the people who have participated in it. Homosexual intercourse is also entirely incapable of the primary biological purpose for sexual activity—the reproduction of the species.||Leads to a 2–3% increase in the occurrence of those genetic maladies associated with the transmission of those recessive genes that may be injurious to a child. This increased risk is similar to the risk of childbearing at ages over 40. Otherwise, entirely biologically healthy and functional.|
|Historical||Homosexuality itself is historically ancient, yet with a longstanding status of taboo across diverse cultures and epochs of history.||Accepted by most of the world's population today. Historically widespread. Homosexual marriage is entirely unattested in history.|
|Moral||Condemned by the scriptures or traditions of every major faith group (noteworthy exception: the one branch of Hinduism that includes the Kama Sutra has the sole positive mention of homosexuality in major faith texts). Religious leaders from the Dalai Lama to the great Christian leaders of history have been unanimous in their condemnation of homosexuality as sexual misconduct.||Tolerated by every major faith tradition, and even commanded in some.|
So, what's my point? Am I arguing in favor of cousin marriage, suggesting that the denial of cousin marriage is a terrible human rights problem in our nation? No. I believe that laws against cousin marriage serve a generally benign and largely beneficial function in our society. They enshrine an American cultural expectation that people will look outside their own families for a spouse. In so doing, they increase genetic diversity in our nation, leading to marginally increased public health. Banning the marriage of people over 40 would have terrible cultural effects in our country, since many of those married-over-40 folks are the parents of children conceived earlier. So, although cousin reproduction and over-40 reproduction are genetically comparable, the banning of marriage beyond 40 would have far greater ill effects in society than does the banning of cousin marriage. Banning cousin marriage, I believe, results in a positive impact upon our society. I am not opposed to laws against cousin marriage. If they did not exist, I wouldn't be on a campaign to enact them, but their existence does not bother me.
My point is simply to highlight the absurdity of homosexual marriage. Every argument against cousin marriage applies in spades to homosexual marriage. Yet our nation outlaws the more benign of the two while activists for the worse one can almost taste eventual victory in the courts and then in the polls. In Iowa right at this moment, it is a felony for two consenting adults to engage in a marital relationship (cousin marriage) that is historically, biologically, and morally acceptable by every reasonable standard (if a bit odd), but it is (according to an activist court) a fundamental and constitutional human right for two consenting adults to engage in a marital relationship that is historically, biologically, and morally bankrupt (homosexual marriage).