Friday, May 18, 2012

Relationships between cousins. Are they taboo? I never noticed.

I've recently been puzzling about relationships, or sex, between cousins. And why has this popped into my head? It's not normally a subject I'd give much through to. But I recently noticed, as part of some USA citizens' protest against the prohibition of gay marriage, the following slogan: 'North Carolina. Where you can marry your cousin. Just not your gay cousin.'
I was surprised to see this. The implication seems to be that marrying a cousin is shocking, or shameful.  As in 'How ridiculous is North Carolina, it won't allow gay marriage, but it actually allows cousins to marry!'
Hum. Well, apart from the fact that I'm not sure mocking people who want to have one particular kind of relationship is the best way of promoting another kind of relationship, it made me realise that I've never thought it taboo for cousins to be together. It's not illegal here in Britain and I didn't realise it was illegal in parts of the USA. I didn't actually think it was even regarded as strange here, but I might be wrong about this. For all I know, everyone else in Britain might think it's really bad, and I just never noticed. I can be quite unobservant.
I don't recall ever meeting any cousins who were in a relationship together, but I wouldn't care if I did. I had a lot of cousins in Scotland. They all lived far away, and there was never the slightest chance of me forming a relationship with any of them. But if I had, I don't think society would have frowned on it. But again, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe everyone would have been horrified.
I know it's said that continual breeding between close relatives can cause genetic problems. I suppose that might be a problem if relatives were marrying all the time. I don't imagine that the occasional child born to cousins wouldn't make the slightest difference. (Although I don't know that for certain, not being a geneticist.)
There are some relationships between cousins in Lonely Werewolf Girl. Possibly, even people who would normally think such relationships were taboo, would not mind this in the book, because it involves a werwolf clan, where such pairings are more or less inevitable, given the relatively small size of the clan. But really, while writing the book, I never gave it any thought, because it never seemed strange to me in the first place.


  1. Anonymous6:10 pm

    Its a little unusual and a sign of a rural location (when it is brought up in jokes here--ayrshire--its more to mock the rural location than anything else, a variation of the one horse town and the horse is deid joke), but beyond the unusualness factor, I don't get it either. Americans are weird about sex. Fun fact, in "The Importance Of Being Ernest" it's the revelation they are cousins that allows the marriage to take place.

  2. To most of us Americans, it is taboo because of the genetic possibilities. Most of the (not so funny) jokes about cousins having kids involve deformed or mentally retarded children as a result. And like Anonymous said, it's usually associated with rural areas (such as down south which, say, include many parts of North Carolina. The people who are usually associated with these kinds of deviant acts are "rednecks" or "hicks" (google Jeff Foxworthy's comedy acts for an education on these topics).

    Places like North Carolina are part of the southern religious areas of the country that us northerners wish would die off and go away... as a New Yorker, I have no problem with two people of any random combination of gender being married. But having sex with a cousin? Ick. That's my (slightly diluted) blood in there!

  3. Actually, most people only have to go back about three generations to find relatives (cousins) who have married. That tends to be a world-wide phenomenon, from the way I understand it - it has to do with traveling and how far away we go (or don't go) from our home turf.

    Some of it is also cultural - I come from a family that is sometimes called Melungeon - our ancestors (the Welsh-Romnichals, the Lakota, the Cherokee, the Shawnee) were matrilineal; even today, they have effected how we view family relationships. We have brother/sister-cousins and then cousin-cousins. My mom's sister's kids are my brother/sister-cousins and marriage with them is absolutely not allowed. My dad's sister's kids are my cousin-cousins and would be allowed. A lot of people I went to school with (the Native American descendents excluded) didn't differentiate between cousins. A first cousin is a first cousin, either side of the family tree. And if marriage was or wasn't allowed depends on their cultural backgrounds.

    Even being in West Virginia, USA, I don't know any cousins that are married; but, from all the genealogical research I've done, it was very common (all across the US) until just a couple of generations ago.

  4. I don't think it has ever been forbidden in the UK. (you can't marry your niece or nephew, but cousins are fair game)

  5. Typically, it's only 1st and maybe 2nd cousins that cannot marry. It does depend on the state, though. I remember growing up in Arkansas, and being teased by Californians about marrying my cousins, and being able to come back that in Cali, it's legal to marry a 2nd cousin, but it's not in Arkansas. I do have to wonder if the definition of cousin might have different meaning between the cultures? My cousin is my mother's sister's child, as an example. However, many more relatives are called out as cousins and aunts/uncles even when they don't fit that definition, just to make it easy to identify, and because (in the South) we address our relatives with seniority (such as aunts, uncles, grandparents) with their relative title (Aunt Mary).

  6. Ok, after reviewing Wikipedia's article, and your comments above, I'm much less weirded out about that crush I had on my cousin at 14 years old. Plus, if the science in Wikipedia is to be believed, we'd have had above average fertility, so that's something, right?

  7. Anonymous11:25 pm

    I'm from the UK, too, and you are definitely allowed to marry your first cousin (i.e. the child of your mother's or father's sibling) here, so it's not the definition of cousin having a different meaning. It doesn't happen that often, but I don't think it's considered particularly shocking or icky.

    I think marriage of cousins is/was often actively promoted in rural, pre-industrial economies (especially those which practise arranged marriage), because it's a means of keeping land within the family. Loads of my ancestors married cousins in the 18th/early 19th century for this reason, so it's surprising I don't have two heads.

  8. I am American, and I have always understood it to be discouraged because of the genetics involved (as stated by Michael, above). Other than that, it seems to be a matter of personal preference rather than morality. Cousins are often regarded much like brothers or sisters, frequently growing up close together, so thinking of them romantically could induce an "Ew!" factor.

    Off topic: If you publish the next Thraxas book online, I will buy it. I'd buy it even if it were just the draft.

  9. Anonymous3:19 pm

    I actually know 2 people who have married 1st cousins here in the UK (midlands) - the common factor is that they weren't raised together as kids though. Not illegal and, as someone else has said, really common not that long ago due to inheritance/entailed estates and such like. Think it is also relevent that England broke with the Catholic Church as Catholics are not cool with inter family marriages (think papal dispensations for the royals and all that). Gotta say that it doesn't strike me as weird as long as they are consenting adults. It is a concern for certain genetic illnesses mind you?

  10. Anonymous5:04 pm

    I just finished watching the anime Kaze No Stigma where there is definitely a cousin relationship. (awesome anime btw) I think it all depends on the culture and family practices. Yes first cousin relationships are generally frowned upon but I think its legal and more accepted for second cousins to form relationships. I don't see it as a problem, if two people love each other who should stand in the way?

  11. As far as I know, marriage between first cousins is allowed in all Europe. In Italy, though, if you are Catholic and want to marry your first cousin in church, you need to get permission from the bishop. Marriage between cousins is generally frowned upon because people are afraid of possible genetic anomalies, but also because, at least in Italy, cousins often grow up together and are considered very close relatives.

  12. Anonymous5:57 pm

    The taboo follows old traditions. There is new science technology today that has found that it is very rare for cousin couples to have a baby with genetic defects. People just need to be more unjudgmental and research the facts before they just assume it wrong.

  13. Anonymous4:19 am

    The risk of genetic abnormalities in the children of 1st cousins is equal to that of a women in her 40's. The problem would begin to lie if the family continually interbreed.even then depending on how it was done it would be slight. I myself happen to have fallen in love with my cousin. We are currently in a relationship. It is considered taboo here in the US. Due what essentially was birth defect propaganda. We also did not grow up together. Apparently this plays a big factor in being able to be attracted to ones cousin. There has been some research on the matter. Alal in all when it happened to me, I was freaked out and felt really weird. But the more I researched the more I realized how normal it actually is. In fact 1 in 10 marriages worldwide are between cousins. Another fun fact I like to throw out there is that Einstein was married to his cousin and he was a friggen

  14. Anonymous4:08 pm

    I've had a crush on my first cousin for years, but he doesn't know (I think). I believe the feeling is mutual, but I'm not sure. I'm pretty sure the relationship here in Canada would be frowned upon, even though first cousin marriage is legal. I only know one person who married his first cousin, so it's rare (here anyway).

  15. Anonymous9:09 pm

    My cousin and I are happy together but we cannot wed as we are inhabitants of Indiana.
    If it is okay for first cousins to breed, then why can we not wed?