Cousin Marriages: A Fair and Balanced View

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We are the Mecca of collection of articles on the theme of religion and science

The Muslim Times’ Chief Editor’s comments: Please read my thoughts in the comment section below, in my attempt to make this a more fair and balanced presentation. Zia H Shah MD

Additional reading

First Cousin Marriages in Pakistani families Leading To Disabilities among Children

Why Ban Cousin Marriages?

Cousin Marriage – Why? – Why Not?

The tragic truth about cousin marriages: They can cause a litany of genetic illnesses 

This presentation was made to the Canadian Youth and is not meant to promote Cousin Marriages

By Dr Amtul Qudoos Farhat, MBBS, DCH (UK), FCPS (Pediatrics)

Introduction

We have chosen this topic in view of the current Propaganda going on, on the Internet and in Public. We have also come across views of Muslim youth who seem to perceive some kind of stigma associated with cousin marriages. Here we discuss the Islamic, historical, cultural and research views on Cousin Marriage.

We will touch upon the background as to why the topic has emerged all of a sudden and has become an important issue in the western world.

What is a Cousin Marriage?
It is generally regarded as the marriage between two close blood relatives. There are various terms being used in this context. These terms are of legal importance and have implications in genetic and Inheritance issues. Cousins may be:

  1. First Cousin
  2. Second Cousin
  3. Parallel cousin (two brothers or two sister’s children) Chacha, Taya, Khala
  4. Crossed Cousin (a brother and her sister’s children) Mamoon zad, Phoophi zad
  5. Double first cousin—two persons are Double first cousins when both of their parents are first cousins.
  6. Consanguinity is the degree of closeness the common ancestor

Forbidden Marriages:

Sura Al Nisa explains clearly what sort of marriages are prohibited in Islam and it does not include first cousins.

 “Forbidden to you are your mothers, and your daughters, and your sisters, and your fathers’ sisters, and your mothers’ sisters, and brother’s daughters, and sister’s daughters, and your foster-mothers that have given you suck, and your foster-sisters, and the mothers of your wives, and your stepdaughters, who are your wards by your wives unto whom you have gone in — but if you have not gone in unto them, there shall be no sin upon you — and the wives of your sons that are from your loins; and it is forbidden to you to have two sisters together in marriage, except what has already passed; surely, Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful”. (Al Qur’an: 4:24)

These verses present the  summary of the prohibited marriages in Islam and it does not include Cousin in the list.

The Holy Quran also tells us not to marry the step mothers.
However if your father has passed away and he leaves behind a wife who is not your mother, you are allowed to marry her although it is a foul, hateful and an evil way

“And marry not those women whom your fathers married, except what has already passed. It is a thing foul and hateful and an evil way.” (Al Qur’an: 4:23)

Married Women are also forbidden for marriage:

So a woman, unlike a man, cannot have two husbands at one time.

The above account shows that Islam does not prohibit cousin marriages. This is according to the Law of Nature which is followed in all the Islamic Teachings. Islam is known as Deen e Fitrat which means the Religion according to human nature.

Kufoo’V
Generally one likes to marry someone who is more or less similar to oneself in every way/ many ways. This is called marrying in your own Kufoo’v. Compatible kufoo’vs make people more compatible in relationships. Cousins; especially when raised in similar environment; mostly make appropriate Kufoo’vs and Islam recommends marrying within Kufoo’vs.

Cousin Marriage is Halaal but not an obligation. The concept is parallel to Halaal foods. For example; even though grain is Halaal and Tayyab yet, many of us may not take it for medical or otherwise or no reason at all and there is nothing wrong with that.

Important Cousin Marriages
There have been many eminent cousin marriages in all religions and cultures.

In Islamic History:

  1. The Holy Prophets’ wife Hazrat Zainab binat Jahash was the daughter of the Holy Prophets aunt.Hadhrat Fatima was married to to Hadhrat Ali and HadhratAli was Hadhrat Abu Talib’s son who was an Uncle to the Holy Prophet (sa)
  2. Several other members of the Prophet’s family and inner circle were married to their cousins.
  3. Hadhrat Masih i Maud(AH) first married Hurmat Bibi at the age of 16 who was his first cousin.
  4. Many Arab kings and queens and eminent people including Sadam Husain (wife: Saghira) were married to their cousins

Cousin Marriage in Judaism
Endogamy was a norm in Judaism. Cousin marriages were so common in Jewish ancestors that Hadhrat Yaqoob’s (Jacob) eight sons had only six grandparents. The eminent cousin marriages include:

  1. Hadhrat Abraham to Hadhrat Sarah
  2. Hadhrat Isaac to Rebecca
  3. Hadrhat Jacob to Leah ad Rachel

Leviticus is the book of Laws in Judaism. Most of its teachings are also followed by Christians too. According to Leviticus (Book of Law): ch: 18, following are the forbidden relations for sexual life.

  • your mother
  • your father’s wife
  • your sister, (whole or half) “whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere” (v.9)
  • your grandchild
  • the daughter of your father’s wife (step-sister)
  • your mother’s sister (aunt) “as she is your mother’s close relative”
  • your father’s sister (aunt) “as she is your father’s close relative”
  • your father’s brother’s wife (aunt)
  • your son’s wife
  • your brother’s wife
  • with both a woman and her daughter
  • your wife’s sister as a rival wife (to spite your first wife)
  •  with your neighbor’s wife

We notice that all the relations are same as cited in the Holy Qur’an. And above all it does not include COUSINS!

Cousin Marriages in Christianity
Cousin marriages were commonly practiced in Europe in middle ages. Even today the Christians in Middle East frequently marry first cousins.
Church discouraged the tradition to burst the social life of clans. It was an effort to make people visit church to seek social life and therefore to reinforce the significance of Church. It was not for medical reasons at that time. Following eminent Christian personalities married their cousins:

  1. Hadhrat Maryam (Mary) and Joseph—(Ref: Catholic Encyclopaedia)
  2. Robert Einstein
  3. Charles Darwin—had Six children out of her first cousin wife Emma
  4. John McDonald First prime minister of Canada
  5. Queen Victoria of UK to her first cousin Prince Albert
  6. Prince William Fredrick , Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh to his first cousin Princess Mary
  7. Tsar Nicholas 11

Prevalence of Cousin Marriages Worldwide:

  • The Muslim world have the highest rate—up to 50%. A survey carried out on children born in hospitals in Iraq showed that 46% were born to cousin parents.
  • 3
  • Chinese and South Americans are next: 5-10%
  • The rate is less in so called ‘developed’ world……1% in Europe. However the rate is up to 60% in Muslim communities living in Britain.
  • Turks have low rate. Marriages outside the clans were encouraged by Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, the Revolutionary leader who tried to make Turkey culturally at par with rest of the European world. Many Turks are married to Danish people.
  • It is illegal in many western countries. A mid-fifty-survey in USA showed 0.2 % Cousin Marriage in USA. It is a legal practice in 27 USA States

Many American states allowing first cousin marriages (blue color in map). These include the highly populated states like New York, New Jersey, Mississippi, California, and Texas. It is also allowed in shaded states in certain cases.

4
Following diagram shows the type of marriages approved in the world:

2

Accordingly 39% of the world approves of first cousin marriage. 27% of the world does not approve it.
34% of the world does not approve first cousin but allow second cousin or consanguineous marriages. Overall simplified version looks like this:

1

Medical Stigma-BBC Report
Medical stigma was attached to cousin marriages in view of a report published by BBC. It stated that Pakistanis in Briton, 55% of whom marry a first cousin, are 13 times more likely than the general population to produce children with genetic disorders, and that, one out of ten children born in cousin marriages either dies in infancy or develops a serious disability. Thus Pakistani-Britons, who account for some 3% of all births in the UK, produce “just under a third” of all British children with genetic disorders.
Pakistanis in Britain

Genetic Researchers
Subsequently, some eminent researchers studied the issue ethically and published their results in the most renowned journals of Genetics. These Researchers included:

  • Professor Diane Paul from the University of Massachusetts.
  • Professor Hamish Spencer from the University of Otego in Dunedin, New Zealand.
  • Robin L. Bennett, a Genetic Councillor at the University of Washington & the President of the National Society of Genetic’
  • Dr. Arno Motulsky, a Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Genome Sciences at the University of Washington

Results of These Researchers
The risk of congenital defects was found to be 2% higher than Average (3%)
Professor Spencer said: “Women over the age of 40 have a similar risk of having children with birth defects and no one is suggesting they should be prevented from reproducing.”

In view of these results, scientists at the University of Massachusetts in Boston called for the taboo on first-cousin families to be lifted.

Is Cousin Marriage Recommended?
The answer varies and depends upon the medical history and need for social ties of the couple. If there is history of certain disease in the family, the best would be to choose unrelated marriages. For example, Thalasemia is very common in Cyprus. The Cypriot Law demands testing prospective couples for Thalasemia gene before marriage. This is a preventative action in view of the prevailing disease.

Similarly if one needs to develop further social relationships, one may like to marry a non-cousin.

For same reason the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) once told one of his Companions to choose a wife from a tribe different to his, and then to choose for his son a wife from a third tribe, and to seek for his second son a girl from yet another tribe.

In Qs & As Session, Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih 4 was asked a similar question and he replied in this video:

 

So Why all this Propaganda?
We have reviewed the religious, cultural and medical background. There was no propaganda about cousin marriages before; even when there were concerns regarding the incidence of congenital abnormalities. So why the topic has emerged recently and why Cousin Marriages is becoming a taboo?

In Invidualistic societies, an individual is supposedly sincere to the State more than his family. Therefore the elite sociologist thinks that the “Family Ties” should break to facilitate One World and One Government.

The issue came up during Iraq invasion. Sociologists concluded that the high prevalence of consanguineous marriages among Muslim World is a bar to the development of democratic process. Clans are sincere to kin more than to the state.

Consanguineous marriages make clans and extended systems which are threat to the ONE State Agenda. Countries like Iraq cannot become modern civil societies until the sincerity within clans are lost.

Propaganda Books
Many books were written on the theme. Randall Parker, an economist, explained the problem in his book: Consanguinity Prevents Middle Eastern Political development
Steve Sailor , an American Conservative to build Iraq Society wrote Cousin Marriage Conundrum: the Ancient Practice Discourages Democratic Nation
Frank Salter a political writer wrote Risky transactions in Germany

Some of the messages given in the book are as follows:
The main message was that the Cousin Marriage is a big Threat. It promotes:

  1. An Ideological Model which is enemy of civil society
  2.  Nepotistic relations
  3.  Loyalty to nuclear families.
  4.  Power, unity, rule and economy with in clans.
  5.  It is the Biggest Underestimated factor in Middle East politics
  6. High inbreeding interferes with our plans.
  7. Civil society formation is difficult
  8. Threat to powers.

So Governments were on move. A veteran MP in UK called for a ban on cousin-marriage which was prevalent in South Asian Muslims in Britain. It was claimed that such marriages are leading to a striking rise in the incidence of rare recessive disorders, many of which are fatal.

Scientists View on These Laws:
Commenting on these laws Professor Spencer, an evolutionary zoologist, said that these laws should be repealed, especially in America, where they were drafted in a way that discriminated against the rural poor and immigrants. He said;

Neither the scientific nor social assumptions behind such legislation stand up to close scrutiny.”
“Such legislation reflects outmoded prejudices about immigrants and the rural poor and relies on over-simplified views of heredity.”
“No scientific grounding for it.”

So think twice and wise before getting married to a cousin!

 

 

26 replies

  1. It’s a fantastic article covering all the aspects of cousin marriages. Good effort.
    There is a logo “I LOVE MY COUSIN, GO BABY CRAZY” at the top of article. Could you please explain what message you want to give by this logo?
    Regards

    • Mohtram Rafiq Sb will not recommend what Fater of the Prophet Abraham has sunnah of doing. Abraham’ wife Sarah was a half-sister of Abraham.

      It is correct to say that“Risks of congenital problems doubles in cousin marriages, from 0.03 t0 0.06.
      There are 94% chances of the baby, free of birth defects in cousin marriages.
      There are 97% chances of the baby, free of birth defects in non-cousin marriages.

      But,

      In other words, uncontrolled risk increases by meager 3 per 100 pregnancies. This uncontrolled meager 0.03 figure is quite reassuring for most cousins, who want to marry.

      Today it is possible to eliminate this 0.03 meager risk and achieve higher chances of a healthy baby.

      Through genetic counseling before marriage, cousins may achieve even higher chances of a healthy baby. Prenatal councilling and testing may further greatly increase chances of a healthy baby.

      There is no reason to condemn cousin marriages. It is a matter of genetic education.

      Today, by genetic counseling before pregnancy and prenatal testing during pregnancy, cousins may have better than 99% chance of having a baby, free of birth defects and

      almost 100% chance of having a baby, free of Chromosomal defects.

  2. loved the topic,but i think at times to save girls from marrying out of the jamaat it is necessary families ask for their proposals from within.but i dont always recomend cousin marraiges

    • I have been reading all these articles on how the west and Muslims view marriage between cousins. Muslims say its a propaganda to eliminate kinship as marriage between cousins promotes the creation of clans and it threatens democracy. Well look at all the Arab countries where this practice is common and they all have monarchy which is actually prohibited by Islam. Also sura Al Nisa states the exclusions explicitly. Of course it does not say you cannot marry cousins (explicitly) but it does not encourage it either. It does not say there is benefit to such practice. Further more life and religion is about progress. Now that we know that there is probable consequences (appearance of rare genetic disease and susceptibility to other disabilities) [This is no propaganda] we need to think twice. What would be the use of prenatal counselling when you see that there is a good chance of having a baby w/ genetic disease for couple (cousins). What would you advice: terminate pregnancy (not permitted by Islam)? adopt (Does Islam encourage it)? or get divorced and remarry?. This will depend on the social situation the couple is in.You see its not that simple. So marry some one outside your family, broaden your horizon, become more tolerant and improve your genetic makeup.

  3. I also do not recommend marriage among close relatives specially consistent or between common paternal grandfathers. Marry someone from a different race but of same faith and mindset is the best.

    But the best marriage is one which is held by Allah’s will and plan and such marriages are extremely rare and he or she is blessed who is bestowed with this great reward from Allah.

  4. Does the verse (Sura Al-Ahzab 33:50) below not prescribe cousin marriage for the Holy Prophet (SAW) only? Allah knows best!

    It says:
    “… this is only for you, excluding the [other] believers. We certainly know what We have made obligatory upon them concerning their wives and those their right hands possess, [but this is for you] in order there will be upon you no discomfort…”

    In Sura Al-Ahzab (33:50),

    O Prophet, indeed We have made lawful to you your wives to whom you have given their due compensation and those your right hand possesses from what Allah has returned to you [of captives] and the daughters of your paternal uncles and the daughters of your paternal aunts and the daughters of your maternal uncles and the daughters of your maternal aunts who emigrated with you and a believing woman if she gives herself to the Prophet [and] if the Prophet wishes to marry her, [this is] only for you, excluding the [other] believers. We certainly know what We have made obligatory upon them concerning their wives and those their right hands possess, [but this is for you] in order that there will be upon you no discomfort. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful

    • I agree. Prohibited for marriage in 23:5 it clearly states brothers daughters and sisters daughters which is what a cousin is. It does not use the word cousin but the description is clear.

  5. Great article. Muslims these days have a problem. They defend what is not necessary to defend. Any permission granted in the Holy Quran is taken as an order and defended to death. In the above article the following sentence is the key:
    “Cousin Marriage is Halaal but not an obligation. The concept is parallel to Halaal foods. For example; even though grain is Halaal and Tayyab yet, many of us may not take it for medical or otherwise or no reason at all and there is nothing wrong with that.”
    So the cousin marriage is not prohibited but not preferable or necessary. Especially when the scientific data shows that the risk of congenital defects increases to twice as much in first cousin marriage compared to non cousin marriage, then why insist on this.
    The social aspects and downside is easily observed in the Muslim societies. Family ties pressurize people to do the wrong thing. It is necessary for a just society to overcome the family ties and consider the national interest first.
    I am glad that the message is getting through. The next generation Muslims will be much wiser than the ignorant Muslim leaders of today.

  6. In Yoruba culture, it is an abomination to marry a cousin or anybody having blood relation with one. Even the Alfas and other Islamic scholars in the south west Nigeria see it as a taboo. With the scientific condemnation if cousin marriage, I think it is high time this ugly marriage stopped !

  7. If we eat too much of Halal food we become obese, which in extreme situations can be even lethal. In similar fashion, we need to realize that frequent cousin marriages certainly lead to problems. Some times big and drastic issues.

    Cousin marriages can offer several social advantages, but, one needs to be able to see any good science with an open mind. For now in my opinion the punch line is that the prevalence of congenital disease in non-cousin marriages is 3% and it is twice as much in cousin marriages.

    Again, the risk of congenital problems is 3% in general marriages and doubles in cousin marriages and perhaps increases further if there are repeated cousin marriages in the family.

    Read an important news item in the Guardian:

    Marriage between first cousins doubles risk of birth defects, say researchers

    If anyone must do cousin marriage and have resources and money, they should consider test tube baby after genetic testing, this will almost completely take out any risk from cousin marriage plus more. The way to go if you have money.

    To begin to know about genetic issues begin to read Lee Silver.

    Lee M. Silver (born 1952) is an American biologist. He is a professor at Princeton University in the Department of molecular biology of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He also has joint appointments in the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy, the Center for Health and Wellbeing, the Office of Population Research, and the Princeton Environmental Institute, all at Princeton University.

    Silver is the author of the book Remaking Eden: How Genetic Engineering and Cloning Will Transform the American Family (1998). In the book he takes a positive view on human cloning, designer babies and similar prospects. In this book he coined the term reprogenetics to describe the prospective fusion of reproductive technologies and genetics, which will allow positive eugenic actions on an individual level.

    His most recent book, Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life, was released in June 2006.

    Silver is the co-founder of GenePeeks, a genetic research company which owns a simulation for screening genetic disorders.

    Suggested Reading
    PGD, Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis for Genetic Disorders Preventing genetic diseases by testing IVF embryos

    New Tech Allows Parents Genetic ‘Preview’ Before Conception

    I will keep updating this comment of mine over time and add links to useful information in here.

  8. I would listen to what Allah is instructing me rather than what scientists and professors have researched. After all wouldn’t you listen to APPLE for care and service of your I-phone or would you go to a technician who has learnt to repair cell phones in a week. Allah is our creator and he knows what is best for us.It does not matter what the world has discovered so far

    • That is one of the most moronic statemens ever made! Do you think no one has learned nothing in 1400 years? Things change, science changes, discoveries are made! We learn new things every day, should we all be happy with fire and caves? Grow up, look at the facts. Faith is one thing, ignorance is another.

      • David White why don’t you talk about health risk of having kids after 35 as much as you talk cousin marriage. I think if you are thinking of better of the world you will have started advising sisters to marry abit earlier to increase their chance of having healthy baby, But i doubt your sincerity

  9. Very nice article. I think there may be some errors of understanding in this article. The first one I noticed is when it says “However if your father has passed away and he leaves behind a wife who is not your mother, you are allowed to marry her although it is a foul, hateful and an evil way”. This conclusion is incorrect in as much as the verse 4:23 has a grandfather clause. In other words, those stepmother-stepson marriages that already happened before the revelation of 4:23 are not to dissolved to save a family. However, this won’t be valid post 4:23.

  10. Very informative article, I believe the reason why developed world have the highest rate of divorce rate in the world some over 60% In first year ( https://www.trendrr.net/8004/countries-with-highest-divorce-rate-world-famous-lowest-india-japan/ ) with belgium having over 70%,
    1. They discourage btw marriage btw same race, religion, culture and relitive. which creates families with no understanding, and compromising after first 6 Weeks or ROSE GLASSES AND HONEY MOON
    2. They also encourage Late Marriage of women, saying the best time of marriage is over 30, double chances of un healthy children probably hire rate than cousin marriage which are over exaggerated
    here is link of 10 countries with highest rate of autsm ( https://www.worldblaze.in/top-10-countries-with-the-highest-rates-of-autism/ ) some having 10% of new borns having mental disorder.

    3. Most of these countries never warn woman that having children over 30 will endanger your baby . since its in line whith their agenda of Reducing world population, and decreasing the chance of woman having more babies .

    I believe people should look when marrying more than fist month of marriage, and think about Long term, children , and giving the children healthy environment wher both parents.

    1. Cousin marriage have allot of benefits including more understanding of the coubles and families too
    2. the divorce rate is since both couple don’t just see as high school lovers but family and can sucrifice each other during harsh times which outsider will never go the extra mile,
    3. Close family ties and many other benefits .
    4. Cousin couple have over 96% chance of having healthy kids while average is 98%,
    5. The only time when cousin marriage may bring problem is when its repeated several generation,

    The are multiple research show that marriage btw outside race and culture have high chance of divorce and misunderstanding and luck of compromise during the hard time. I encourage The viewers to not fall propaganda and people having agenda,

    • Well, there is one disadvantage you do not mention: when in cousin-marriages the marriage fails, then the whole family is in trouble (yes, just as the whole family benefits when all goes well). Often two brothers from one family marry two sisters of another, the same problem, if one marriage fails the other is suffering too. Anyway, we pray that every marriage should be happy, because there is nothing worse than an unhappy family life.

  11. As somali living kenya, I have seen 3 of relative who have married first cousin,
    My uncle from mother side, head 6 Healthy kids with his first cousin.
    My second cousin married his first cousin and had 6 kids all of them healthy and one of them won Highest markets in her final year school, The whole North eastern kenya province .
    One of my cousins also married his first cousin in 2014 with 2 healthy kids as i for Now.

    also when we talk about cousin we are not like west having 2 to 5 cousins, I have over seventy 70 first cousin, some of them i have never seen. i think the reason of taboo is the west and seing yoyr cousin as blood brother and sister, is when you are the only child of your parent and having only two cousin who now are your closest.

    In somalis marriage btw cousin are not that high, But over 80% of marriage is same tribe. and divorce rate is very low

    I in love with my second cousin and our marriage will be febuary next year. Also we don’t have any genetic disorder in our family and even close relative.

    Please make dua for us, Thank you

  12. Edited version and removed spelling errors,

    Very informative article, I believe the reason why developed world have the highest rate of divorce rate in the world some over 60% In first year ( https://www.trendrr.net/8004/countries-with-highest-divorce-rate-world-famous-lowest-india-japan/ ) with belgium having over 70%,
    1. They discourage marriage btw same race, religion, culture and relative. and they have creates families with no understanding, and compromising after first 6 Weeks or ROSE GLASSES AND HONEY MOON
    2. They also encourage Late Marriage of women, saying the best time of marriage is over 30, double chances of unhealthy children probably hire rate than cousin marriage which are over exaggerated
    here is link of 10 countries with highest rate of autism ( https://www.worldblaze.in/top-10-countries-with-the-highest-rates-of-autism/ ) some having 10% of new born having mental disorder.

    3. Most of these countries never warn woman that having children over 30 will endanger your baby . since its in line with in their agenda of Reducing world population, and decreasing the chance of woman having more babies . actually they don’t care any divorce rate and children growing with single parent

    I believe people should see marriage as Long term 40 years down the road, children , culture rather than fist month of marriage and honeymoon marriage is Long game not high school love

    1. Cousin marriage have allot of benefits including more understanding btw the couples and families too
    2. the divorce rate is very Low since both couple don’t just see as high school lovers but family and can sacrifice each other during harsh times which outsider will never go the extra mile,
    3. Close family ties and many other benefits .
    4. Cousin couple have over 96% chance of having healthy kids while average is 98%,
    5. The only time when cousin marriage may bring problem is when its repeated several generation,

    The are multiple research show that marriage btw outside race and culture have high chance of divorce and misunderstanding and luck of compromise during the hard time. I encourage The viewers to not fall propaganda and people having agenda

  13. Will Our Children Be Normal?

    DNA

    Perhaps the most pervasive, and unmerited, argument regarding cousin marriages is that the children born to such couples will have mental or physical disabilities, which become a burden on society in terms of tax dollars.
    The question is: How risky is it really to have a child with your cousin? The answer is: Not nearly as risky as so many other factors for which there is no legislation!

    The above graph represents what are called “multifactoral” disorders. These multifactoral disorders include a wide range of problems, and are often associated with low birth weight or premature birth. These problems can include stillbirth, SIDS, under-developed lungs and other vital organs, mental retardation or learning disabilities, anemia, and heart conditions.
    This chart indicates the 3% background risk shared by all pregnant women, and comparative increases of risk for various groups.

    The graph above illustrates various inherited types of conditions, as well as the background risk (which everybody has) and the increased risk for specific groups. In general, a child who inherits a recessive disorder inherits one defective gene from each parent. Examples of recessive diseases include Cystic Fibrosis, PKU, Tay Sachs and Sickle Cell.
    Dominant and Gender- or X-linked disorders, on the other hand, are ones in which the defective gene is inherited from only one of the parents. Any parent who is a carrier has a 50% chance of passing the disease on to their children. Dominant gene disorders include Neurofibromatoses, Marfan Syndrome, and PKD. Some examples of X-linked disorders are Hemophilia and Fragile X Syndrome.

    The conditions that are of most concern in cousin couples are recessive conditions, where one defective gene is inherited from each parent. First cousins have a 1.5 to 3% increased risk of having a child with birth defects that are inherited. However, some couples may share no recessive traits, and would therefore have no increased risk.

    First cousins, once removed have an increased risk of .75 to 1.5%, and second cousins have no higher risk than an unrelated couple. Double first cousins are rare, but have approximately twice the risk of other first cousin relationships. First cousins whose parents are identical twins are also rare, and have a significantly higher risk as well, having the same number of shared genes as half siblings.

    An Issue Of Reproductive Rights

    In the spring of 2000, some members of Maryland’s House of Representatives presented a bill to prohibit marriages between first cousins in their state. Although this is an infrequent occurrence in Maryland (counties reported a range of one to three incidents per year, mostly from non-residents) the sponsors of the bill believed that such marriages produced physically and mentally challenged children, thus placing an enormous burden on taxpayers’ money. They argued for the bill based on erroneous statistics, but failed to validate their information with evidence. The bill died in the senate, but the sponsors have expressed a desire to resubmit it in 2002.

    In the spring of 2001, quite a different scenario took place in the state of New Hampshire. First cousin marriages had long been forbidden in that state, and at the request of one of her constituents, Delegate Anne Grassie presented a bill to overturn that law, and allow one inidual to marry the woman of his choice.

    Do cousin couples who wish to bear children pose such a risk to society that there should be legislation preventing their right to pursue happiness?

    More than four million women become pregnant in America each year, each with a 3% background risk of having a child with a birth defect. Out of those four million women, it is estimated that:

    .1% (4,000) of those women are pregnant by a first cousin
    As the charts above indicate, the health risk to unborn children of first cousins is very nominal, particularly when combined with such a low frequency of occurrence.
    1.1% (45,000) use cocaine
    Cocaine use increases the odds of intrauterine growth retardation by 15%, and also significantly increase odds of premature or low birth weight babies and related health problems, stillbirths, and SIDS.
    2.9% (119,000) smoke marijuana
    Marijuana use during pregnancy may reduce the size of the fetus and the birth weight, and related health problems. There is also a 10-fold increase in the risk of nonlymphoblastic leukemia in children whose mothers used marijuana before or during gestation. Marijuana may also increase the risk of chromosomal damage.
    18.8% (757,000) drink alcohol
    Alcohol consumption during pregnancy increases the risk of birth defects by 9%. Additionally, one out of every 750 newborns are born with FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.)
    18-20% of pregnant women are in abusive relationships
    Mothers who are in abusive relationships are four times more likely to miscarry, or to have low birth weight or premature babies, and related health problems.
    20.4% (820,000) smoke cigarettes
    Cigarette smoking causes a 1.4 – 2.5% increase of low birth weight and related problems, learning disabilities, and cleft lip and/or palette.
    25% (1,000,000) are teenagers
    Adolescent mothers are 2 to 6 times more likely to have a child with low birth weight or prematurity and its related problems, as well as infant mortality rate and SIDS. Teenagers are also at greater risk for anemia, blood pressure problems, and complicated deliveries.
    Polydrug use during pregnancy
    The NIDA National Pregnancy and Health Survey has uncovered a strong link between cigarette smoking and alcohol use and the use of illicit drugs in this population. Among those women who used both cigarettes and alcohol, more than 20 percent also used marijuana and 9.5 percent took cocaine. Conversely, of those women who said they had not used cigarettes or alcohol, only 0.2 percent smoked marijuana and 0.1 percent used cocaine. “This finding reinforces the need for health practitioners to monitor the status of both licit and illicit drug use during pregnancy,” said NIDA director Dr. Leshner.
    Pregnancy in women over 35 is on the rise
    Mothers who are over 35 are thirty times more likely to have a child with Down’s Syndrome. Pregnant women who are 40 or over are one hundred times more likely to give birth to a Down’s Syndrome baby. Such chromosomal defects do not follow any hereditary pattern.
    Clearly the evidence proves that legislation against first cousin marriages is an unnecessary measure of prevention. There are far more high risk lifestyles to be concerned with. We, as a society, make use of every opportunity to educate women and couples about how their lifestyle choices can affect their unborn children, while allowing them the freedom of choice. Do first cousins deserve any less consideration?

    An Alternative Solution:

    While the risk of birth defects is only very slight, it is still something that all first cousin couples should take into consideration. Genetic Counselors are able to determine the margin of risk for a couple by carefully examining the medical history of both sides of the family. In some cases, if a history of genetic disorder is revealed, blood tests can determine whether the couple actually carry the defective gene.

    Insurance usually will cover the costs associated with genetic counseling, however, many individuals do not have adequate coverage. Those that do often will not seek counseling for fear of their kinship being exposed, thus making them vulnerable to discrimination and social prejudice. Others may not even realize that medical options exist.

    First cousins should be aware of the availability of genetic counseling and testing, and encouraged (but not mandated) to seek the advice of a qualified expert. Information packets could be distributed to any first cousin couple applying for a marriage license, and a voucher program could make counseling more affordable to those who do not have insurance. By providing such information and options, we would be giving cousins the freedom to make an informed decision.

    What do the experts have to say??

    “In terms of legislation, personally I don’t feel laws against cousin marriages are necessary. I think the legislators could focus on an education program for cousin relationships. Perhaps funding could be found for vouchers for genetic counseling services for those without medical coverage. I don’t feel people should be mandated to see genetic counseling, but every obstacle should be removed to allow them the opportunity.”
    ~ Jacquelyn Krogh, MS, CGC
    “We do not restrict people with autosomal dominant disorders such as Huntington disease who have a 50:50 risk to pass the condition to their children from marrying or conceiving! There is no social pathology associated with marrying a cousin and in fact cousin marriages are the norm in many parts of the world…”
    ~ Robin L. Bennett, MS, CGC

    Buy the book! Click here now!In the near future I would expect more states to make it illegal but, eventually the facts will become known and the trend will reverse. There is no evidence to support the notion that generations of cousin marriage in itself results in genetic problems. The evidence indicates quite the opposite. One must challenge any statements about the dangers of cousins marrying and make people aware of the facts. That way the next generation may give up the myth.
    ~ Martin Ottenheimer, Professor of Anthropology

    I’m not against healthy relationships. I’ve not come across any research to suggest that cousin relationships, between two consulting adults are damaging psychologically in any way. Cousins share an exclusive history with each other. It’s a relationship where you don’t have to create a shared history or experience. You have a head start on intimacy, in a sense the work is already done for you.
    ~ Dr. Robi Ludwig, Ph.D.

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