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Consanguineous Marriage: Can I Marry My Cousin?


Can You Marry Your Cousin?
Consanguineous marriage is the marriage between cousins or siblings of siblings. In other words, consanguineous marriage is the marriage between, let's say, you and the child of your uncle or aunt. 
The lifelong question, can I marry my cousin, keep raging through the centuries. And that's quite expected, you know why?

Over the years, many ethnicities and cultures have preferred intra-marriage, that is a marriage between the same culture, and has sternly discouraged marrying from other countries, cultures and ethnicities. This has led to the recirculation of the same genes within the gene pool, and to such extents that small towns would already have more than 80% of the citizens related in one way or another. That is to say, they have married themselves so much that new generations of children are either near or distant cousins to each other.
Many a time, two people who are interested in each other for marriage later find out that they share some ancestry at some point, in other words, they may be distant cousins. Then, the questions arise again, can such cousins marry?
In some cultures and communities, cousin marriages are considered ideal and are actively encouraged and expected; in others, they are seen as incestuous and are subject to social stigma and taboo.
Let's quickly look at some historical perspectives to cousin marriage as we proceed. 

Historical Perspective

Cousin marriage was historically practised by indigenous cultures in Australia, North America, South America, and Polynesia. Different religions have taken different and opposing stands of the concept of cousin marriage. Some have prohibited cousin marriage between even up to the sixth cousins (e.g, some forms of Hinduism and Catholicism), while others freely allow even first cousin marriage (e.g, Protestantism, Islam and Judaism).
Since the 19th century, the prevalence of first-cousin marriage in Western countries has declined. However, in the Middle East and South Asia, cousin marriage is still strongly favoured.
In Africa, cousin marriage is prohibited but only to some extents, such that distant or very distant cousins can be allowed to marry, especially after performing some traditional rites. Apart from the customary laws, there are no constitutional laws against cousin marriages.

Cousins or close relative marriage is forbidden in many African cultures and this is usually based on superstition. Some African cultures believe that ancestral forces would inflict punishment on anyone who marries a cousin or close relative, or who deliberately engages in deep sexual contact with each other, with the full awareness of their relationship as cousins or otherwise. This is called incest and it is grossly emphasized in Africa, however, superstition remains one common way of instilling fear in individuals in Africa to obey rules and regulations.
As opposed to the African setting where the rule is not formally documented for each state and country, other countries and continents of the world have marriage laws entrenched in the judicial law for each state and country.

Cousin marriage has often been practised to keep cultural values intact, preserve family wealth, maintain geographic proximity, keep the tradition, strengthen family ties, and maintain family structure or a closer relationship between the wife and her in-laws. 
Notable examples of cousin marriages include the following:
  • Charles Darwin and his wife, Emma (first cousins)
  • Saddam Hussein and Sajida Talfah (first cousins)
  • Albert Einstein and Elsa Lowenthal (first cousins on mother's side and second cousins on father's side)
  • Franklin D Roosevelt and Eleanor
  • Thomas Jefferson and Martha Wayles Skelton (third cousins)
These are just a few examples. Even the Biblical character Isaac was instructed to marry from his father's household. That too is consanguinity.
Now, what are the benefits of marrying a cousin and what are some reasons against sanguineous marriage? We shall be seeing these next, with special emphasis on reasons against marrying a cousin.

Reasons Why Cousin Marriage Is Not Advisable

For sake of simplicity, I would categorize the reasons why marrying a cousin is not advisable into the following headings;
  • Medical reasons
  • Social reasons
  • Political reasons
  • Others

Medical Reasons

If you have some ideas of biology and genetics, you would already know that some genetic diseases are inherited in a recessive manner; that is, two copies of the gene must be present before the genetic disease is noticed. This is because the gene is recessive, or silent in the presence of another more dominant gene. 
Genes are the molecular building block of our body structure and functions. So when an abnormal gene is inherited from a parent, it can cause impaired or abnormal functioning of the body cells. This is what brings about the concept of genetic diseases.

Naturally, some of the most deadly genetic diseases are inherited in a recessive manner, that means two copies must be required to produce effects. For example, Sickle cell disease (Common in Sub-Saharan Africa), Tay-Sachs disease (Ashkenazi Jews), Cystic fibrosis, etc.
Consanguineous marriage brings increases the chances of having both copies from both parents if the recessive gene was already present in the family. Bottom line is, there are increased chances of transmission of genetic diseases. 

Social Reasons

Marriage between people of only one ethnic group or family has the advantage of preserving their lineage. In simpler terms, they want to maintain a pure breed, with no mixed genes whatsoever. To also want to maintain social closeness, avoid distant migration away from home because of marriage. So, this way, parents and relatives adopt this restriction in marriage to prevent an individual from going far away from them because they married someone distant. But these reasons look trivial on the outside and I bet there are still no good reasons on the inside either. But this grave disadvantage is that there is then a social restriction too.
Social restriction, in the sense that, marriage, which is one major institution that unites people of different race, tongue and tribes, is not allowed to do what it was meant for. If we were to marry ourselves irrespective of tribes, skin colour and language, trust me, the world would actually be a more united place than it is today. 

Political Reasons

According to the Royal Marriages Act 1772 of the Parliament of Great Britain, conditions under which members of the British royal family could contract a valid marriage were prescribed, in order to guard against marriages that could diminish the status of the royal house. Such that the monarchical status of the kingdom is preserved. However, that didn't limit marriage between royals and commoners, it simply validates the union for approval before they go ahead with the marriage.
Whereas this system will make the throne and the royal family stronger on the surface of the earth, it will surely limit the power sphere to only that kingdom and environs. A notable king in the Christian Bible, King Solomon was able to gain influence throughout many kingdoms because he married their Princesses and made them his Queens. Quite wise, you'd agree because no one wants to go to war with a city for whom his daughter is Queen, right? But that demonstrates how much we can politically rob ourselves as a nation or people when we despise unions from the outside.

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Let's see the question one more time, can I marry my cousin? I'd expect a 'yes' and a 'no' from you. From a personal point of view, there is absolutely nothing emotionally wrong with marriage between cousins, especially distant ones. Close cousins may see themselves as too close to consummate any sexual union with themselves, though we have seen cases of first-cousin marriages(above). 
However, if there are other options, and of course there always are, cousin marriage should be discouraged as much as possible for those reasons above. The political and social reasons, and economic reasons if you may add that yourself, may not be very potent enough reason to dissuade consanguineous marriage, but the medical or biological reason should.
There are higher chances of inheriting genetic diseases that would otherwise have remained latent when you marry your cousin.
  

Are We Not Already Cousins?

Hey, a great question here. Are we not all cousins? Genetic studies have shown that more than 95% of our genes and genetic materials are identical across all cultures and races. The creation theory of the origin of humans and other living things, as proposed by some religious scholars traced all human existence to two individuals, Adam and Eve. And if we were to go with this theory, then it would mean that we are all related. In other words, we are already cousins in some ways unimaginable. However, the more divergent we became, the more we became less related to each other, by virtue of location, adaptation and adaptive features like hair and skin, etc. But we still retain the genetic building block deep down within all of us.

So my last question for you is if you are already married, why did you marry your cousin? And if you yet unmarried, why will you marry your cousin? But that's on a lighter note, though. I hope you enjoyed your read. Stay peaceful.

Prosper Yole

I am a lifestyle blogger, I write useful articles on successful life tips and hacks. Posts bearing Prosper Yole as author are either written by the blog author himself or by our various other contributors. Thank you for reading through. I look forward to having you more often. Please subscribe to my feeds below...