Should first cousins be allowed to marry?
Any two adults who choose to enter into matrimony with the full understanding of what it means and what it will require of them should be allowed to marry and reap the rewards of that choice. This of course, applies to homosexuals as well, a point that most people are beginning to understand if not accept. But of all the so-called fringe groups in need of marriage rights, perhaps cousin couples are the most misunderstood.
What is the main objection to cousins marrying? Judging by the countless truly tasteless jokes out there about the less-than-stellar offspring of cousin parents, the chance of having deformed children seems to top the list of reasons to ban these unions. The issue surfaces every so often in state legislatures where certain eager politicians try to pass laws prohibiting legal marriage between first cousins, ostensibly on the basis that the resulting deformed children will put a strain on the educational resources of the state.
It's hard to know where to start when faced with this kind of argument. A web site that deals with this and other aspects of cousin marriage admirably is cousincouples.com but for my part I will limit myself to commenting on the fundamentals, which can be expressed by two separate but equally important points.
a) As I've said, the purpose of marriage is not procreation. The inadvisability, or inability, of reproducing should never be used as a barrier to legal marriage. This kind of thinking could conceivably lead to the outright prohibition against marriage for infertile couples, those past childbearing age, or those that may carry an increased risk of birth defects. It is essential that we maintain marriage as the inalienable right of any two individuals who choose to enter into it, regardless of their childbearing capacity.
b) Despite what activists would have you believe, there is little or no scientific evidence that first cousins will produce disabled children. The reality is that for an average couple, paired at random from the general population, the risk of birth defects is roughly three percent. For first cousins, the risk is slightly less than double that. While I am not a fan of statistics, I do trust the science of genetics, which is not open to interpretation.
Perhaps the clearest voice of opposition to cousin marriages comes from the religious front, which is ironic considering that the holy books of the three major religions in North America all make reference to cousin marriages. Nevertheless, many religious fundamentalists believe that cousin marriage is an affront to God, and label these couples sinners. While I am not interested in convincing religious people to abandon their mysticism and embrace rationality, and will therefore not enter into religious arguments, I think it is worth noting that popular opinion about cousin marriages, the ubiquitous jokes we hear in sit-coms and bad stand up routines, have their source in this kind of religious fundamentalism, this fascination with sex and sin.
There is no sin in loving someone and wanting to marry them. There is no sin in having children with that person, and raising them with the conviction that they are entitled to pursue happiness in their life and in their marriages, with whomever it is that warms their hearts. People who fall in love with their cousins are no different than any one else, and should not be discriminated against because they chose someone with similar genes. Human beings are not thoroughbreds that have to be concerned about their bloodlines; finding someone you love is far more important than where you found them.
If you believe that love is a capricious little sprite, mysterious and inexplicable, that floats into your life on a whim and can float out again just as easily, then you might ask "why can't you find someone else to fall in love with?" But if you understand that love is based on mutual admiration and respect of each other's values, if you know that the person you fall in love with, and stay in love with, is the person who best represents all the things you value most in life, then you won't wonder at whether you ought to throw it away just because that person is your aunt's daughter or your uncle's son.
Any couple that makes it through the obstacles in life to find each other deserves our total support, not more hurdles to overcome. And any cousin couple willing to face familial and societal disdain and get married anyway deserves our respect for recognizing what a valuable thing marriage is. Perhaps they represent the kind of spirit the interracial couples of the past had, those who defied discrimination and followed their hearts and minds instead. And perhaps cousin marriage will some day be as much of a non-issue as interracial marriage is today. Hopefully, it will be soon.