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Kissing Cousins and Marraige

Updated on April 15, 2011

Cousin Marriage

After reading an article about kissing cousins, I found myself learning that the topic holds a whole lot of history, and controversy.

Marriages between cousins are often quite stigmatized today, mainly here in the West. But, they actually account for over 10% of marriages worldwide. In some Middle Eastern nations, cousin marriages account for over half of all marriages.

Depending on the area, and the culture, these relationships are looked upon as either ideal, encouraged, uncommon but legal, incestuous or unlawful.

Culture and Love

Ensuring that cultural values are kept intact is one reason for cousin marriage. Other reasons include preserving family wealth, tradition, distance between groups, . . .
and just plain being in love!

The following is a quote from the website, Cousin Couples
Love is an intoxicating gift. Love will cause people to do things they might not do normally. For instance, cousin and interracial marriages. Love sees through cultural boundaries. Love doesn't care what someone else may think. The "normal" boundaries seem insignificant when you are in love.

The common discussion among many is that there are birth defects when two people so closely related marry. The truth of the matter is that the chance of such an occurrence is much lower than you would think, with the risk at about 2% over the average of 3% for non-cousin couples. The risk is about the same for a woman who gives birth after the age of 40 years. The rate does increase the closer the the consanguinity, or shared genetic DNA. The percentage decreases significantly the further back the generation of the common ancestor. For example, there are four times the shared DNA for first cousins, as there are for second cousins.

As one would expect, if there is are repeated generations of first cousin marriages, the incidence of genetic disorders is much higher, as much as 13 times more likely.

State Laws Regarding Married Cousins

In the United States, the division is almost 50/50 in regards to which will, or will not recognize two from the same family from marrying, and the language within the laws vary.

In some states the marriage is "prohibited or void if the parties are first cousins or any nearer of kin to each other, whether of the whole or half blood" -  allowing for first cousins by adoption only. Some states uphold the above even in the case of adoption.

Other states go so far as to list every imaginable match not being allowed, except cousins; one lists a prohibited marriage as one where the parties are more closely related to each other than the fourth degree of consanguinity.

Fines and penalties range from a $500 dollar fine, to anywhere from one to twenty years in prison.

Five American states (Wisconsin, Utah, Indiana, Illinois and Arizona) permit cousin marriage when the couple will not bear children (not sure how this is enforced).

North Carolina only prohibits the marriage of double first cousins (very rare occurrence)

Maine permits the marriage only with genetic counseling.

The argument against these laws is that many of them were passed before modern genetic knowledge, and they feel they are thus, baseless. 

Famous Cousin Couples

  • Charles Darwin, and first cousin, Emma Wedgwood
  • Albert Einstein, and first cousin (through his mother) and second cousin (through his father), Elsa Lowenthal nee Einstein
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., and second cousin, Amelia Lee Jackson
  • Jesse James and first cousin, Zerelda Zee Mimms
  • Thomas Jefferson, and third cousin Martha Wayles
  • Jerry Lee Lewis, and first cousin once removed, Myra Gale Brown
  • Edgar Allan Poe, and his cousin, Virginia Clemm
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt, and fifth cousin once removed, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt
  • H.G. Wells, and first cousin Isabel Mary Wells
  • John Adams, and third cousin, Abigail Smith
  • Henry VIII - three of his six wives were cousins
  • Johann Sebastien Bach, and cousin Maria Barbara Bach
  • Rudy Giuliani, and second cousin Regina Peruggi

The Controversy Continues

The controversy will most likely continue as cousins for various reasons continue to marry.

Whether due to arrangement by family, social acceptance in their country, or because of undying love, cousin couples seem to find the union worth the stigma attached to kissing cousins.


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