Several of our Canadian ancestors married a first or second cousin, and I allowed that to be a shock. My bias against these bonds is purely cultural. I frankly had no idea that consanguineous relationships are not only accepted, but widely practiced in other parts of the world. In fact, I had never heard or seen the word "consanguineous" (it refers to people descended from the same ancestor).
In the U.S., we have stigmatized these relationships since our founding, and they are prohibited by law in more than half the states. We currently rationalize the ban as a defense against genetic defect, but the Catholic Church banned cousin marriage (out to fourth cousins) in the Middle Ages, long before there was a concept of genetic inheritance. Furthermore, recent studies have found the genetic disadvantages to be relatively minor. How could it be otherwise if we evolved from small tribes with limited options for marriage?
A comprehensive discussion of this subject is far beyond my capability, but the original bans seem to have been rooted in social engineering. Keeping marriage in the family has some significant advantages. It concentrates and conserves wealth and/or power. It fosters family loyalty, mutuality and trust. If you are part of a small community or tribe, it allows you to create descendents when the options are limited. If you "keep it in the family," you strengthen the family. On the other hand, the society at large, represented by churches, corporations, and/or governments, would appreciate your allegiance and your assets being spread outside the family. It serves these umbrella organizations to demonize consanguinity, and that is what has happened.
Cousin marriages are accepted and legal in Europe and Canada (and much of the rest of the world). To appreciate their advantages you need only look at the McLaren Family of Farms and the way the family remained interdependent and supportive. Our Canadian cousin, David James McLaren, related a favorite story about his Aunt Carrie, who remained a spinster for all her 94 years. Her reason, more than tongue in cheek: "I ran out of acceptable cousins." Again, it just wasn't a big deal.
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Updated July 1, 2011
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