Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's All Relative

Recently I was perusing online newspapers and I discovered a story in the New York Times about cousins getting married. The article profiled Kimberly Spring-Winters and her “cusband” Shane Winters, a Pennsylvania couple that fell in love despite the fact that they are first cousins. Since marriages between first cousins are illegal in Pennsylvania, the couple had their official ceremony in Maryland where there are no laws restricting such a union. The article went on to profile several other first cousin couples throughout the United States and the stigmas that they face.

One of the most enduring ideas concerning such unions is the idea that their offspring would be hideously deformed, dangerously unhealthy, and shockingly under-toothed. Recent studies do indeed confirm that the risk of serious genetic defects (spinal bifida, cystic fibrosis) is about 2.8% higher than a non-related couple. While this is significant, the numbers are on par with a woman giving birth in her early 40’s. Infant mortality rates among first cousins are slightly more sobering (4.4 % higher than a non-related couple) but there are some in the medical community that feel these numbers do not warrant great concern.

While I am not qualified to judge the medical concerns, I am fascinated with the social and legal aspects of such a relationship:

Marriages between first cousins are prohibited by law in twenty-five states, but what might surprise you is where it is completely legal: Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, Tennessee, New York, California, Maryland, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, California, Alaska, Hawaii, New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Washington D.C. all allow the marriage of cousins.

North Carolina, always one to take the high road, has put their foot down and refused to marry double first cousins. This is what happens when a set of brothers marries a set of sisters. Interestingly, we are the only western nation with cousin marriage restrictions, so there must be some allure to it. In that spirit, I have compiled the following list of advantages one would enjoy when married to your first cousin:

· Instead of saying to your spouse “You remember my Aunt Glenda right?” you can just say “You remember your mom right?”

· You child’s school genealogy project will take much less time than their peer’s.

· Either parent can accurately answer the question “What was Grandpa Jones like?”

· Your Christmas present budget for the extended family is dramatically reduced. This is especially true for double cousins.

· Gives you a “hot spare” for organ donation.

· If relation is on the fathers side, your bride can avoid the bothersome maiden name paperwork.

· Ironclad eligibility for your spouse’s Gap employee discount.

· When visiting your spouse in the E.R. and they ask if you are immediate or extended family you can simply answer “Yes.”

· You only have to attend one family reunion every year. Again, especially true for double first cousins.

· When you tell your husband “I feel like I have known you my whole life,” he can answer “That is because you have.”

· You don’t have to constantly wonder “What will my mom think of her?”

· Your spouse has already seen (and participated) in most of your embarrassing childhood photos.

· You can save money by only paying for one Ancestory.com login.

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