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  • Technorati: graph / links

    Should first cousin marriages be outlawed?


    by guest on 12th April, 2009 at 12:44 pm    

    The author, a British Pakistani woman, wishes to remain anonymous. This is part of Speakers Corner Sundays

    After reading some of the posts on disability issue recently, how’s this for a pickled politics discussion? The huge problem with congenital illnesses among British Pakistani and some other ethnic communities who practice a lot of first cousin marriage. The NHS and various charities campaign for better awareness, and research funding to help children live with terrible chronic conditions.

    But after so many decades in Britain, it is time for a more openly critical and judgemental attitude to the practice, especially given the often still very hostile attitudes to disability within the Asian community? Should the government consider outlawing first cousin marriage? Or is that discrimination?



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    59 Comments below   |   Add your own

    1. fug — on 12th April, 2009 at 12:53 pm  

      isnt even the mooting of such an extremist invasive british governmental stance suggest a fried brain on the part of the guest? is there no other social technique imaginable for internal reform, or is it another case of aloofness?

      doesnt the gross generalisation of bad asian attitudes towards the less endowed smack of self hatingness?

      is the poster unaware of the actual social mechanics that have led to the overuse of the provision of this form of marriage?

      yaar

    2. D-Notice — on 12th April, 2009 at 1:12 pm  

      No.

      First cousin marriages aren’t a problem. There is no significant difference in the rates of genetic conditions in the children of cousins as opposed to kids of a non-related couple.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cousin_couple

      It’s akin to banning a woman in her 40s from having kids.

      Of course, problems arise if this is repeated through numerous generations…

    3. A Councillor Writes — on 12th April, 2009 at 1:30 pm  

      And that, D-Notice is the problem. Numerous generations of this practice, which is why if you look at the stats, the disability figures (both physical and learning) shoot up in areas where communities who practice this as a cultural meme live.

      No, of course, it shouldn’t be banned, but it needs careful and sensitive work to discourage it.

    4. tanvir — on 12th April, 2009 at 1:36 pm  

      That wikipedia cited in post no2 says

      A BBC report found that Pakistanis in Britain, 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 in ten children of 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 illnesses.

      I havnt searched for any papers on this, there surely must be tons of data out there, but from what I see especially in Yorkshire hospitals, I think pushing for more genetic counselling would be worthwhile. The embassies abroad (especially in Pakistan) should certainly offer this as part of the process of newly-wed Britons returning home.

    5. halima — on 12th April, 2009 at 2:04 pm  

      I was discussing with a friend the topic of why most species (as a rule) won’t kill and eat their own. (As you do, it seemed logical when in a national park looking for animals this morning) . Or rather they will kill their own , but won’t eat . When I asked why the answer it seemed was that because the brain and the liver in particular cause mutations of some disorder within the body of the same species.

      There’s something in the mad cows logic there.

      We then got on to discuss marrying first cousins…

    6. Sonamarg — on 12th April, 2009 at 2:10 pm  

      To outlaw first cousin marriage on the basis of a potential increase in genetic abnormalities would presume the following:

      1. That all marriages are contracted on the basis of reproduction.

      2. That it is the government’s role to police reproduction.

      3. That the reason any particular couple might have for getting married is the government’s business.

      4. That it is wrong for people to reproduce if there is any chance they might have a genetically abnormal child.

      5. Unless you also outlaw sex between first cousins, that all reproduction takes place within marriage.

      So, no, I don’t think the govt should consider outlawing first cousin marriage. Infringing on the human rights of bodily sovereignty is extremely dangerous territory. The discrimination inherent in such legislation would be felt far beyond the Asian community.

      I certainly think it is reasonable for the NHS and cultural organisations to raise awareness of the potential risks of reproducing inherent to any and all choices prospective parents might make. It sounds like they are doing that already.

    7. Don — on 12th April, 2009 at 2:16 pm  

      People should be made aware of the dangers of widespread cousin marriage within tightly knit groups, but banning would be a step too far.

      What about existing marriages? Pesumably they would still be valid, but stigmatised as unhealthy.

    8. halima — on 12th April, 2009 at 2:19 pm  

      Anyways, it’s worth asking why people marry first cousins in the first place… Taking the royals in the world and other ordinary people… it’s generally to do with social mobility, preserving family wealth . etc. etc.

      Is there more?

      I think that would be an interesting supplement to this discussion. As with most things, dig deep enough behind so called ‘cultural’ practices ( a word I loathe to use) we easily find some economic truths.

    9. douglas clark — on 12th April, 2009 at 2:26 pm  

      fug,

      is the poster unaware of the actual social mechanics that have led to the overuse of the provision of this form of marriage?

      Could you clarify for me what social mechanics actually are, and then, after that, explain why they apply in this instance? And it can’t be a provision, can it?

      Just asking.

    10. platinum786 — on 12th April, 2009 at 2:33 pm  

      I agree particularly with post #6.It’s not the governments business to intervene in others peoples personal business. If you morally think cousin marriage is wrong and wish to ban it, what about homosexuality, that hardly is pleasant to the morals of the religious either is it, yet nobody should talk to ban that. It would be a gross infringement of the human rights of British citizens.

      Regarding the Pakistani community, it’d be seen as an attack, an attempt to “control” the size of the Pakistani population in Britain (as a lot of these marriages involves relatives from abroad), furthermore, you’d empower a culture, which is pretty much on it’s way out.

    11. halima — on 12th April, 2009 at 2:41 pm  

      I think it’s quite scarry when the state regulates on personal matters such as fertility and marriage - most of the time. There may be some exemptions - and again this would relate to any objective evidence of harm caused… Otherwise it’s pretty hard to regulate personal and intimate matters. I’d oppose it simply on those grounds.

      Guess the state’s role in sanctioning and institutionalising marriage would be something we’d all agree with it. But what about it’s role in outlawing other forms of behaviour. It’s tricky grounds for me.

      Presumably if we agree that the state can have an enabling role in one stance, it could have a disabling role elsewhere. But it’s still a difficult one for me. Like smoking.

      Places where governments get involved in fertility and family planning … tend to be… quite orthodox.. which I had assumed Britain not to be. It would mean changing the character of the British state and society …

    12. A Councillor Writes — on 12th April, 2009 at 2:43 pm  

      I agree with much of post 6 except the last sentence of the last paragraph, I would say that very little is being done to point out the potential and possible problems.

    13. Boudicca — on 12th April, 2009 at 2:44 pm  

      Yes. Whilst one generation of in-breeding may not result in children with disabilities, successive generations of marriages between close genetic relatives increases the likelihood: as is apparent within some British-Asian communities.

      This is, in general, a cultural practice from rural Asian communities which intended to keep land and property within the extended family. It has no place in a western society.

    14. Leon — on 12th April, 2009 at 2:54 pm  

      Is marrying first cousins legal in the UK?

    15. A Councillor Writes — on 12th April, 2009 at 2:57 pm  

      Leon @ 15 - Yes, it isn’t in some states of the USA where it is a states right’s thing.

    16. Don — on 12th April, 2009 at 2:58 pm  

      Boudicca,

      Actually, it has a pretty long established place in British society. Explicitly sanctioned by the law, the church and common custom. Not nearly as common as it once was, but only very recently has it caused even a pause for thought.

    17. Don — on 12th April, 2009 at 3:03 pm  

      Leon,

      Yep, it’s legal and OK with the CofE. I think it was one of Henry VIII’s ideas.

      Maybe it would be possible to offer a genetic check to estimate the risk if two cousins are considering marriage and offspring.

    18. Leon — on 12th April, 2009 at 3:04 pm  

      So you can marry your 1st cousin but not a brother or sister?

    19. Don — on 12th April, 2009 at 3:05 pm  

      @15

      Presumably not in those states where Elvis is a big presence.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3nbRWJN0F0&feature=related

    20. Don — on 12th April, 2009 at 3:06 pm  

      http://www.weddingguideuk.com/articles/legal/prohibited.asp

    21. A Councillor Writes — on 12th April, 2009 at 3:09 pm  

      Don @ 19 - Sort of

      http://www.ncsl.org/programs/cyf/cousins.htm

    22. Ingrid — on 12th April, 2009 at 4:10 pm  

      Platinum786

      The poster (and I assume most people opposing first cousin marriage) are critical toward first cousin marriage because of scientific findings pointing to children being affected negatively by this through congenital illnesses. Religious opposition of homosexuality has to do with moral values, not science, and does not directly harm anyone in the same way - surely comparing the two is pushing it a bit?

    23. Naadir Jeewa — on 12th April, 2009 at 5:29 pm  

      Diane B. Paul and Hamish G. Spencer, ““It’s Ok, We’re Not Cousins by Blood”: The Cousin Marriage Controversy in Historical Perspective,” PLoS Biology 6, no. 12 (December 1, 2008): e320 EP -, http://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.0060320 is a good article on this.

      The 2% risk above background rate assumes that the parents are unrelated.

      I wouldn’t recommend an antagonistic approach such as prohibition and judgement to solve this. Would be better to improve access to family planning, education for women, and let the slow march of economic progress do its work.

      I’d like to know if rates of marriage between first cousins has remained constant or dropped, and compare across socioeconomic groups and region. I’m willing to bet there’s a big difference.

      Finally, state interference in reproduction does constitute eugenics. If interference for a 4% risk is considered acceptable, then what about disabled couples?

    24. Amrit — on 12th April, 2009 at 5:33 pm  

      halima, your post #8 beat me to asking that all-important Q!

      I was just going to ask: how much choice do people get in these marriages? Is there a correlation between forced marriage and cousin marriage, especially in cases where British (or American or other such) Pakistanis are marrying someone ‘back home’?

      I mean, I’m sure that in some cases people find an attraction and agree to it, but in many others, I can imagine that people would be bothered by the thought of marrying a family member, even if it’s not technically ‘incest’.

      Everyone saying it shouldn’t be banned is right. As shown many times before, banning things often makes them harder to control and regulate. Education is TOTALLY the way to go here.

    25. Roger — on 12th April, 2009 at 7:05 pm  

      “Actually, it has a pretty long established place in British society. Explicitly sanctioned by the law, the church and common custom. Not nearly as common as it once was, but only very recently has it caused even a pause for thought.”
      The reason cousin marriage is less common than it was is because of increased mobility, social and physical, Don. When nearly everyone lived in the same place all their lives and married someone from the same area cousins were about the only people there were to marry.

      The occasional cousin marriage doesn’t increase the chance of hereditary conditions much;. As people have said above, it’s repeated marriages that make the difference. However, there are arguments the other way. While most Europeans think of the Habsburgs, who went in for cousin marriage on a large scale- for the same reasons as many Indian and Pakistani families- concern for property,- as an awful warning, the Wedgwood/Darwin/Keynes/Galton/Vaughan Williams etc family, who also went in for cousin marriage- Charles Darwin both married a cousin and later did research into the ill-effects of cousin marriage- showed a familial tendency to depression, eccentricity and childlessness but produced several geniuses of the first rank and several hundred people of outstanding ability. If cousin marriage concentrates deleterious genes, presumably it concentrates beneficent genes as well.

    26. justforfun — on 12th April, 2009 at 7:08 pm  

      Don - thats one long list

      A man may not marry his:

      Mother (also step-mother, former step-mother, mother-in-law, former mother-in-law, adoptive mother or former adoptive mother)
      Daughter (also step-daughter, former step-daughter, daughter-in-law, former daughter-in-law, adoptive daughter or former adoptive daughter)
      Sister (also half-sister)
      Father’s mother (grandmother)
      Mother’s mother (grandmother)
      Father’s father’s former wife (step-grandmother)
      Mother’s father’s former wife (step-grandmother)
      Son’s daughter (granddaughter)
      Daughter’s daughter (granddaughter)
      Wife’s son’s daughter (step-granddaughter)
      Wife’s daughter’s daughter (step-granddaughter)
      Son’s son’s wife (grandson’s wife)
      Daughter’s son’s wife (grandson’s wife)
      Father’s sister (aunt)
      Mother’s sister (aunt)
      Brother’s daughter (niece)
      Sister’s daughter (niece)

      But I see the Scots have it worse - they can’t marry their great-grandmothers either !! :-)

      Anyway I blame the Arabs and ‘their holier than thou ways’

      http://iranica.com/newsite/articles/unicode/v13f1/v13f1005.html

      - anything,it seems was permissable under Zoroastrianism all those years ago :-).

      Good point Halima - its all traceable back to economics. Always follow the money.

      Good point Platinum - Governments should keep their noses out of peoples’ personal affairs - thats religion’s job.

      justforfun

    27. A Councillor Writes — on 12th April, 2009 at 8:11 pm  

      Roger @ 25

      Whilst the Habsburgs had their share of problems, most people don’t think of the Spanish Habsburgs when they think of that. The end result of that was Carlos II of Spain (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_II_of_Spain) whose eventual demise led to the War of the Spanish Succession. Instead of 16 great-great-grandparents, he only had 10 distinct ones. His father (Felipe IV) had married his niece, his grandfather (Felipe III) had married a first cousin, his great-grandfather (Felipe II) had married a niece and his great-great-grandfather (Carlos I of Spain and Karl V Holy Roman Emperor) had married a double first cousin. His great-great-grandfather (Felipe I) actually hadn’t married someone within three degrees of co-sanginuity, but she was known as Juana la Loca and was the result of a similarly tangled web of very close marriages between the Houses of Leon, Castile, Portugal and Aragon.

    28. Cabalamat — on 12th April, 2009 at 8:26 pm  

      @2: “No. First cousin marriages aren’t a problem. There is no significant difference in the rates of genetic conditions in the children of cousins as opposed to kids of a non-related couple.”

      The article you cite disagrees with your statement.

      @6: “So, no, I don’t think the govt should consider outlawing first cousin marriage.”

      You are aware, I take it, that some forms of consanguinous marriages are already banned in the UK? And that your argument applies just as strongly to them.

    29. Cabalamat — on 12th April, 2009 at 8:29 pm  

      @10 Platinum786: “It’s not the governments business to intervene in others peoples personal business.”

      In general, I agree. Poeple should have the right to do what they like as long as it doesn’t harm others. But behaviour that causes children to have severe disabilities clearly does harm others.

    30. Clairwil — on 12th April, 2009 at 10:46 pm  

      Perhaps well publicised health warnings and better integrated society would do the trick. Beats banning things any day.

    31. Leon — on 12th April, 2009 at 11:54 pm  

      Bit of a double edged blade though isn’t it?

      How do you advertise that this isn’t necessary the best practice for a healthy society without giving huge amounts of ammo to people who hate Pakistani/Asian/Muslim people?

    32. Niels C — on 13th April, 2009 at 1:49 pm  

      Of course first cousin mariages results in birth defects.
      The main problem is that the pakistani community thinks the discussion about it,is a attack on them. It is.
      If you look at the civilization process in western europe it has been characterized by ideological attacks on traditions of all sorts.But somehow the immigrant communities feel that they should be outside this ongoing process.
      I don’t think it should be outlawed, but counseling should be enforced.

    33. damon — on 13th April, 2009 at 1:54 pm  

      platinum786 @ 10 said:
      ”Regarding the Pakistani community, it’d be seen as an attack, an attempt to “control” the size of the Pakistani population in Britain (as a lot of these marriages involves relatives from abroad), furthermore, you’d empower a culture, which is pretty much on it’s way out.”

      Just to play devil’s advocate a bit here - does a government have the right to want to restrict the growth of (for example) the Pakistani population in Britain? To seem to prefer that (cousins or not) that British people of Pakistani origin to be marrying other Britons? The outcome of this being that the Britons of Pakistani origin would lose their Pakistani-ness and just intergrate into the wider society more readily?
      I think Ann Cryer has given less than subtle hints that she would rather have the direct link between Pakistan and Britain weaken over time … in the sameway that immigrants to the USA (over generations) have lost a lot of the contact with their immigrant forebear’s country and culture.
      I just wonder if this is necessarly has to be seen ”an attack” on the Pakistani community.
      Myself …. I’m not sure. British born people marrying people from poor villages in Africa and Asia MIGHT be seen as slowing down the process of intergration and the ”melting pot” (whether the melting pot is desirable or not is another thing I’m not sure about).
      It was reported in some British newspapers a couple of years ago that in Bradford (particularly) the rate of cousin marriage of British people of Pakistani origin was at 75% (though as it was in the Mail and Telegraph that may just be an exaggeration) - but I would be interested to know what the rate of marriage of British young people to people from the Sub Continent was.

    34. Niels C — on 13th April, 2009 at 8:12 pm  

      Damon : “does a government have the right to want to restrict the growth of (for example) the Pakistani population in Britain”
      In theory no, because of human rights and so on, it’s not allowed to discriminate between different groups of the population.
      The danish so called ‘24 years’ rule is a clever way to bypass international agreements, and a legalistic way to enforce a new life pattern on some (immigrants) groups in the society. In theory the result should be that immigrant children finish their education before they marry, just like most ‘danish’ young people.But of couse the law had the consequence, that if a ‘danish born’ student met an american student and they want to marry and live in Denmark, they couldn’t.

    35. damon — on 14th April, 2009 at 10:07 am  

      The Danish 24 year old rule for seems harsh and unfair, and I have seen a programme about Danish people and their foreign spouses having to move over to Sweeden if they wanted to live together. It does seem unfair. But if the population of a country like Denmark are largely in favour of it - then that’s perhaps their right too. (?)
      To slow down the growth in minority communities.

      I tried to talk about these issues on another leftist website - but most of them were very suspicious and reluctant to go through arguments like those of Migration Watch here, where they talk about: ”Transnational marriage and the formation of Ghettoes”
      http://www.migrationwatchuk.com/Briefingpapers/other/transnational_marriage.asp

      It was usually a reply like ”if you think we’re going to discuss that racist Daily Mail type rubbish, then you’re on the wrong website”.

      I had wanted to go through the right’s arguments, and defeat them one by one.

      For example, it would be interesting to know how people on the left would deal with this Migration Watch claim:

      ”3. When primary immigration from the Indian sub continent came to an end in the early 1970s it was assumed that family re-union would tail off as the communities integrated.

      4. That has not happened. In practice, the custom of arranged marriage had led to a continuous flow of spouses and fiance(e)s from the Indian sub continent which more than doubled between 1996 and 2001 when 22,000 spouses and fiance(e)s were granted entry clearance.”

      ”So what” would be a reasonable answer I suppose.
      But I do accept that that is a very liberal - left of center response.

    36. munir — on 14th April, 2009 at 11:06 am  

      Niels C

      “Of course first cousin mariages results in birth defects.
      The main problem is that the pakistani community thinks the discussion about it,is a attack on them. It is.”

      Well quite. Cousin marriages are also prevalant in the Orthodox Ashkenazi Jewish communiies in the UK but only Pakistanis are being attacked. Strange that.

      “If you look at the civilization process in western europe it has been characterized by ideological attacks on traditions of all sorts.But somehow the immigrant communities feel that they should be outside this ongoing process.”

      Not at all- youll find the sharpest critics of practices in communities are often those from them. But you seem to think “immigrants” are too stupid to realise when they are being scapegoated by populist anti-minority politicians and bigots.

    37. Jai — on 14th April, 2009 at 12:07 pm  

      who went in for cousin marriage on a large scale- for the same reasons as many Indian and Pakistani families-

      A small-but-significant point in relation to “Many Indian families”: Hindus and Sikhs do not marry first-cousins, either in the West or back in India. Especially in the northern half of India.

      However, I don’t know if this also applies to Indian Muslims (who form a relatively small proportion of the British Asian Muslim population compared to Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, although obviously their percentage is comparatively higher in India itself).

    38. damon — on 14th April, 2009 at 12:52 pm  

      From the person on this website that has already called me a bigot:
      ”Well quite. Cousin marriages are also prevalant in the Orthodox Ashkenazi Jewish communiies in the UK but only Pakistanis are being attacked. Strange that.”

      Do nations have the right to self determination?
      Even if they are reactionary and backward?

      Maybe Slovenia might want to be a bit picky (now that it’s in the EU) who it chooses to join it at future citizens through the immigration process?
      Like New Zealand does. They don’t take all-comers as being the same.
      The doctor from Amritsar being the same as the spouse from Shilett.

    39. Ravi Naik — on 14th April, 2009 at 1:20 pm  

      Bit of a double edged blade though isn’t it?

      How do you advertise that this isn’t necessary the best practice for a healthy society without giving huge amounts of ammo to people who hate Pakistani/Asian/Muslim people?

      That’s like asking how should one advertise awareness of domestic violence without giving huge ammo to women who think men are all pigs. If you are conditioned to hate Pakistani/Asian/Muslim people then such advertisements do not make an ounce of difference. But they can make a difference to the lives of potential couples who are not aware about the dangers of such unions.

      But if you are worried about what they might think of Asians, you can always start the advertisement with a brief history of madness and disease within the European Royalty brought by consanguinity relations.

    40. damon — on 14th April, 2009 at 2:07 pm  

      ”How do you advertise that this isn’t necessarly the best practice for a healthy society without giving huge amounts of ammo to people who hate Pakistani/Asian/Muslim people?”

      Who hates so much? (No one in my mostly white ‘British’ family).
      I think some of this is a bit of a red herring

    41. Niels C — on 14th April, 2009 at 6:52 pm  

      Damon : “But if the population of a country like Denmark are largely in favour of it - then that’s perhaps their right too. (?)
      To slow down the growth in minority communities”
      Well if they wait until they are 24, and their spouse also is, it’s ok to marry.
      But the primary reason behind is to force some immigrant communities to adopt to a ‘danish lifecycle’: you don’t marry before you have some kind of adult education. Of course it it is a problem in some muslim communities. But it’s a problem of their own making.Most other immigrant groups ( Tamils, Indians, Chinese, Wietnamese ) adopt very easely.
      The reason was also, that some municipialities was very hard hit by immigration of young 18 year old men or women, who didn’t speak danish and with no or only a few years education.Sorry to say, but only a few of those are capable of finding a decent job.
      In many ways the rule has been a success, the employment rate has gone up.

    42. Leon — on 14th April, 2009 at 7:34 pm  

      That’s like asking how should one advertise awareness of domestic violence without giving huge ammo to women who think men are all pigs

      That doesn’t track but anyway, there’s a difference with the issue. DV is something that happens across all cultures/communities. I reckon if you broke it down you couldn’t say the same for people marrying their first cousins. No amount of royals will have any significant impact on the numbers…

      How it’s handled is key to stopping it (if that is your wish).

    43. Ravi Naik — on 14th April, 2009 at 9:07 pm  

      Leon, you either create awareness to tackle this problem, or you hide it because you are afraid of what racists might think. I don’t see what is the dilemma here. In fact, let’s castigate the author of this post for bringing up this topic, because the last thing we want is for the BNP to read this article, and have more ammo to attack us.

    44. On first cousin marriages. — on 15th April, 2009 at 8:47 am  

      [...] Pickled Politics asks whether they should be banned. [...]

    45. munir — on 15th April, 2009 at 9:56 am  

      Ravi Naik
      “Leon, you either create awareness to tackle this problem, or you hide it because you are afraid of what racists might think.”

      I love this racist colonial notion that the people who take part in cousin marriages are totally ignorant and dont know there are risks involved. They

      “I don’t see what is the dilemma here. In fact, let’s castigate the author of this post for bringing up this topic, because the last thing we want is for the BNP to read this article, and have more ammo to attack us”

      Atatck “us” -lol who’s “us”? Ravi they dont attack you- they attack Muslims which is why you arent overly concerned about giving them ammo. The BNP are pretty glowing about Hindus and Sikhs.

      How about we discuss caste discrimination or female infanticide (both prevalent in the Hindu community)?

    46. munir — on 15th April, 2009 at 10:00 am  

      Niels C
      “Well if they wait until they are 24, and their spouse also is, it’s ok to marry.But the primary reason behind is to force some immigrant communities to adopt to a ‘danish lifecycle’”

      So no Danish people get married or form long term relationships (which are the same as marriage albiet without the paper) before 24?

      This is just minority bashing.

      “: you don’t marry before you have some kind of adult education. ”

      Idiotic. Why cant a person be married AND pursue adult education. And why 24 and not 18 or 21? Do white Danes suspend sexual activity or marriage till they are 24 or have complted adult education?

      “Of course it it is a problem in some muslim communities. But it’s a problem of their own making.”

      No its a non-problem whipped up by bigots of the Danish peopls Party in the far right Danish government

    47. damon — on 15th April, 2009 at 10:14 am  

      Cousin marriage obviously can not be banned, (I know a white couple who are first cousins and have children together)… so I guess the debate might be about its desirability of becoming not just something that happens now and again as a quirk of love (or even the occasional arranged marriage) - but something that is almost the norm amongst particular minorities.

      FGM and polygamy are banned in Britain - and without those bans they would (I’m sure) be quite common.

      How much cousin marriage is a part of a continuing desire for transnational communities (meaning wider families living in Britian and overseas) to circumvent the immigration laws, I don’t know.
      But I’m sure that it is seen in some quaters, that marrying across the continents (with most new couples residing in the UK not Asia) is seen as somehow benefiting the wider transnational family.

      Whether a government (or the people it governs) has a right to have an opinion on it (like Ann Cryer MP does) I’m not sure. Cousin marriage (as any marriage where an overseas spouse comes to live in the UK) will increase the percentage of that minority comunity (in any particular town or area) slowly but surely.

      ”And so what?” would be my answer - but if the spouses are poor in English, and perhaps come from a background where purdah was widely practiced, then it must be admitted that there are some consequences for the wider society that the overseas spouse comes to live in.
      Denmark felt that it wanted to ”cool things off a bit” - and that might be called racist by some.
      As I’m sure they were thinking of more than the (smallish number?) of Danish men who marry Thai bar girls.

    48. Roger — on 15th April, 2009 at 4:09 pm  

      “A small-but-significant point in relation to “Many Indian families”: Hindus and Sikhs do not marry first-cousins, either in the West or back in India. Especially in the northern half of India.”
      Are you sure, Jai? Acquaintances whose backgrounds were in Indian farming families were encouraged to marry cousins from “back home”, partly for the benefits of a British passport, partly to ensure ancestral land stayed in the family or the right part of the family. Furthermore, given the restrictions imposed by caste on potential farmers, people from rural backgrounds in India are probably very restricted as to who they can marry- just about every candidate is probably a cousin of some kind.

    49. Jai — on 15th April, 2009 at 5:26 pm  

      Not first-cousins, Roger. Amongst Hindus and Sikhs, it’s literally regarded as being as incestuous as marrying your own brother or sister. I’m talking about viewing it as Josef Fritzl-style behaviour, and I’m not exaggerating the level of disgust that the idea of attraction, marriage and sex with a first-cousin elicits.

      We actually have an annual festival during the summer called “Raksha Bandhan”, which is specifically about the brother-sister bond. Along with immediate siblings, first-cousins are always included in this too, which should tell you something about how first-cousins are perceived by us. This applies to the older generation(s) as well as the younger crowd, both in India and overseas.

    50. blah — on 15th April, 2009 at 6:10 pm  

      Jai

      “Not first-cousins, Roger. Amongst Hindus and Sikhs, it’s literally regarded as being as incestuous as marrying your own brother or sister. I’m talking about viewing it as Josef Fritzl-style behaviour, and I’m not exaggerating the level of disgust that the idea of attraction, marriage and sex with a first-cousin elicits.”

      Quite which is why youll frequently find Hindus and Sikhs vehemently supporting bans on cousin marriage (essentially trying to impose their religious views on others) when this issue comes up on forums. Its the equivalent of Muslims calling for Hinduism to be banned in the UK because idolatry is repugnant to Islam.

      A friend had a conversation with a Hindu who was mouthing off about how disgusting cousin marriages are and how they are akin to marry your sister (they clearly arent). My friend asked the Hindu guy since he believed in reincarnation (as Sikhs also do) how he didnt know that his wife wasnt his actual blood sister.
      He didnt have an answer :)

    51. blah — on 15th April, 2009 at 6:17 pm  

      damon

      “Cousin marriage obviously can not be banned, (I know a white couple who are first cousins and have children together)…”

      hahah - well if whiteys are doing it how can it be banned. Lets just ban the stuff the darkies only do

      “FGM and polygamy are banned in Britain - and without those bans they would (I’m sure) be quite common.”

      Youre talking out of you rear, as usual. The vast majority of Muslims in the UK are from the subcontinent - FGM is completely unknown amonsgt them (as it is amongst all Muslims except in parts of Africa as it is an African not Islamic practice) and polygamy is exceedingly rare (as it is most Muslim countries outside the Gulf)

      ”And so what?” would be my answer - but if the spouses are poor in English, and perhaps come from a background where purdah was widely practiced, then it must be admitted that there are some consequences for the wider society that the overseas spouse comes to live in.

      Why?

      The odd thing about opposition to the hijab is that is only worn by women OUTSIDE the house- that it is only worn when a woman interacts with wider society.

    52. Roger — on 15th April, 2009 at 10:08 pm  

      “Not first-cousins”
      Thank you. I’d thought of cousins as- well- cousins in general. All the same, Jai, repeated marriage within the same small gene pool may have deleterious effects genetically. On the other hand it would take longer and a small influx of genes from outside would probably make a difference with the comparativey larger original gene pool.

      The reason for discouraging first-cousin marriage- especially repeated marriage over generations- is the high level of birth defects that may arise from repeated marriages. It’s actually a different matter to importing spouses in arranged marriages; in fact if it is made more difficult to bring in husbands and wives then communities with the custom of cousin marriage may continue the practise from the much smaller number of candidates already in the U.K. and so exacerbate any genetic problems.

      “The odd thing about opposition to the hijab is that is only worn by women OUTSIDE the house- that it is only worn when a woman interacts with wider society.”
      I think people disapprove because wearing hijab is seen as a refusal to interact with wider society- a way to be as hidden outside the house as they are in it, Blah.

    53. Jai — on 16th April, 2009 at 9:46 am  

      Roger,

      Yes you’re right about the genetic reasons and also about “cousins in general”. You do sometimes find people marrying second-cousins, for example, although these days back in India it’s more prevalent in the rural areas and in my experience certainly less common amongst the younger crowd everywhere than it was amongst the older folk.

      In fact, even amongst the parents’ & grandparents’ generations, it was very much a grey area and regarded as morally dubious stuff; it’s relatively common amongst some quarters of those generations for married people to be related to each other in a fairly distant “3-4 degrees of separation” way, but generally Hindus and Sikhs fron all generations still regard second-cousins as “cousin-brothers” and “cousin-sisters” (to use some very Indian terms) just like first-cousins and immediate siblings, although obviously there is a slightly greater “distance” in terms of how close they regard them as being to their immediate family compared to the latter two groups. The idea of sexual relations with second-cousins does, therefore, have disturbingly incestuous overtones in the eyes of most people. Fancying and marrying one’s first-cousins is of course completely beyond the pale, as I mentioned earlier.

    54. Ravi Naik — on 16th April, 2009 at 10:41 am  

      but generally Hindus and Sikhs fron all generations still regard second-cousins as “cousin-brothers” and “cousin-sisters” (to use some very Indian terms) just like first-cousins…have disturbingly incestuous overtones in the eyes of most people. Fancying and marrying one’s first-cousins is of course completely beyond the pale, as I mentioned earlier.

      I do not think this is a religious issue - it is rather the result of an extreme insular mindset. Some families want their children to be married within their religion, others within their village, and at the very end, within their families, to protect their assets, culture and values. I am assuming that these marriages are arranged, of course.

      You will also find first cousin marriages in Hindu families. It is well known that the great Satyajit Ray was married to his first cousin. You also find first-cousin marriages in Europe and in the US.

      Still, I find it disturbing that 55% of Pakistanis in Britain marry their first cousins. I am appalled there are no awareness campaigns about the dangers of such unions.

    55. Shafiq — on 16th April, 2009 at 10:50 am  

      My parents are first cousins (I’m British Indian and Muslim) and this practise used to be relatively common, but there’s no way I would marry a cousin. This practise will die out in Britain eventually - it just takes a while for immigrants to adopt the values of their host countries - sometimes it takes a couple of generations.

    56. Jai — on 16th April, 2009 at 10:56 am  

      I do not think this is a religious issue - it is rather the result of an extreme insular mindset. Some families want their children to be married within their religion, others within their village, and at the very end, within their families, to protect their assets, culture and values. I am assuming that these marriages are arranged, of course.

      Absolutely correct, Ravi.

      You will also find first cousin marriages in Hindu families.

      Very rarely, though. It’s very much a fringe phenomenon, regardless of whether the marriage is arranged or “love”.

    57. Ravi Naik — on 16th April, 2009 at 12:03 pm  

      Very rarely, though. It’s very much a fringe phenomenon, regardless of whether the marriage is arranged or “love”.

      Jai, that is true for Hindus in the North of India.

      But there is a considerable number of consanguineous marriages among South Indian Hindus, who disregard the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, which prohibits such unions.
      (Notably, the Hindu Marriage Act is stricter than most Western civil union laws, where it is even prohibited to marry with those that are related through adoption).

    58. Humpty Dumpty — on 16th April, 2009 at 2:40 pm  

      Hmmm, it’s interesting how a lot of the posters here say something along the lines of “We can’t ban first cousin marriages, that would be an intrusion on people’s private lives”. Well surely the same argumennt would apply to brother/sister or father/daughter marriages?

    59. Roger — on 16th April, 2009 at 8:46 pm  

      “Well surely the same argumennt would apply to brother/sister or father/daughter marriages?”
      Or mother-son marriages, Humpty Dumpty, or second-cousin mariages or anything within the seven bounds of sanguinity, if it were practical. Personally, as long as there is no coercion involved, I don’t think there should be any illegality to any sexual reltionship between consenting adults. However, the genetic problems which arise from cousin marriages would be exacerbated in the cases you cite- would society be entitled to forbid them to have children even if it is tolerated? This isn’t a rhetorical question.

      Jai, surely in rural India, for many generations a society without much immigration, with the further complication of caste restrictions- which I understand carried over to islam and sikhism- there was always a very limited range of candidates for marriage and most of them would be cousins. I know that within the seven degrees I mentioned- effectively cousins to the seventh degree- which the Church applied in mediaeval Europe there were communities where it was impossible to marry without a dispensation and that was without caste limitations.
      I mentioned the Wedgwoods and offshoots above as a possible argument in favour of cousin marriage. I think that in their case it was mainly second cousin and beyond with an admixture of outside genes; I think that the Quakers too- who have made enormous- and bneficial- contributions to British culture- also married within a very small gene-pool, so it’s more complex than you’d assume.



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