On first cousin marriages.

Pickled Politics asks whether they should be banned.

No, I dunno. There´s  conflict there between consenting adults being able to do as they wish (and being prepared to accept the consequences of course) and the damage that will/might be inflicted upon the offspring of such. The sort of moral maze that I´m not competent to find my way through I´m afraid.

But if more people were told about the effects of such cousin marriages we might well see less of them:

Habsburg rule over Spain ended in 1700, only two centuries after it began, with the death of Charles II. He was a sickly, disabled and mentally retarded man, whose poor health and childlessness were probably explained by his inbred inheritance, scientists have shown. A study led by Gonzalo Alvarez, of the University of Santiago de Compostela, has indicated that Charles II suffered from two separate rare genetic conditions, which were almost certainly the result of his ancestors’ marriage patterns.

Charles II, known as El Hechizado (The Hexed), was short and weak, and suffered from rickets, intestinal problems and blood in the urine. He had learning difficulties, a large head relative to his body size, and his two wives reported that he suffered from impotence or premature ejaculation. Dr Alvarez’s team said that his symptoms would have been well explained by two recessive genetic disorders: combined pituitary hormone deficiency and distal renal tubular acidosis.

His genetic background – including that his father, Philip IV, and mother, Mariana of Austria, were uncle and niece – “could explain most of the complex clinical profile of this king, including his impotence/infertility which in last instance led to the extinction of the dynasty”, the researchers concluded.

The Habsburgs’ poor prospects were further compounded by an extremely high rate of mortality in infancy and childhood, which may also have been a result of their inbred character. Half of all royal children died before the age of 10, compared with only 20 per cent of children born in ordinary Spanish villages in the same period.

Given that the purpose of marriage is to have children (alright, only in a Darwinian sense but still….) the evidence that first cousin marriages makes having children moot as your line will/could die out should reduce the incidence, no?

14 comments on “On first cousin marriages.

  1. Given that this is a problem in a subset of the population that have not yet come to terms with not living in the dark ages, I propose a compromise.

    Ban it for 25 years. By then the population in question will have moved on from their bizarre ways and there will be no need to retain such a law.

  2. Well I’m also a subset of the population – English Catholics – who would only marry within their tribe. Hence my maternal grandparents were first cousins, as were their paternal. My paternal great-grandparents were also first cousins and two of my first cousins have married each other.

    So far no ill effects, although it has been mooted that we tone it down for a couple of generations, and maybe even consent to marry an Irish Catholic, although that may be a compromise too far.

  3. Phil Spector said that he was the product of first cousins marrying, and he wondered whether this had made him so screwed-up. (I think not, but that’s what he said).

  4. “The situation is further complicated by the fact that a one-off first cousing marriage has no real effect genetically. The problem comes from continued inbreeding”

    That is the key point. It is also why I don’t think it is something we need to worry about from a genetic perspective, in the West. Even if some people from some communities marry their cousins they aren’t going to stick to cousin marriages for a period of several generations.

    Oddly enough though, researchers looking at Icelandic lineages discovered that 3rd cousin marriages are the optimal level of inbreeding to produce offspring, ie even more effective than complete outbreeding.

  5. “So far no ill effects, although it has been mooted that we tone it down for a couple of generations, and maybe even consent to marry an Irish Catholic, although that may be a compromise too far.”

    Tsk, get a bit of that hybrid vigour into the family line. Hey, it worked for us (for a given value of the word “worked”).

  6. Everyone indigenous to the UK is about everyone else’s 19th to 20th cousin, approx statistically (obviously not exactly in all cases.)

    I believe the Indus/general South Asian mountain-area tribes originally did it for conservative land-holding and security purposes.

  7. In some ways it is a good idea. If Islamic terrorists were not descended from family where marrying the cousins has happened for generations – they might be able to build bombs that work (unlike 21 st July 2005).
    Or do stupid things like buying 600kg of Ammonium nitrate (not suspicious).

  8. Also complicated by the fact that incestuous reproduction can produce exceptionally genetically strong individuals (which is why brother-sister marriage was encouraged among Egyptian royalty – the kids who didn’t die or end up drooling spazzers were evil geniuses…)

  9. Any “breed” of animal you care to name is produced by inbreeding. Inbreeding reinforces a characteristic, it doesn’t produce it. Done with animals, unsuccessful creatures aren’t bred from and successful creatures are ( whatever the criterion of success):- and creatures successful in one way are crossed with creatures successful in another for the few progeny that combine the two virtues.
    Inbreeding does not of itself produce bad outcomes- unless the subjects bred have them to start with in which case it accentuates them (along with their virtues).

  10. I suspect a Rothbardian answer here would be for the disabled to sue their parents for negligence.

  11. Recusant – “Well I’m also a subset of the population – English Catholics – who would only marry within their tribe. Hence my maternal grandparents were first cousins, as were their paternal. My paternal great-grandparents were also first cousins and two of my first cousins have married each other.”

    Until Vatican Two, English Catholics, like all others, were prohibited first cousin marriages and had to petition Rome directly if they wanted one.

    So I am impressed by your family’s determination to marry each other.

  12. john b – “Also complicated by the fact that incestuous reproduction can produce exceptionally genetically strong individuals (which is why brother-sister marriage was encouraged among Egyptian royalty – the kids who didn’t die or end up drooling spazzers were evil geniuses…)”

    That “why” supposes that the Egyptians had the first clue about genetics. I would be very interested in any evidence that they did. Do you have any?

    Nor is there much evidence I know of that Egyptian Royalty were more or less likely than anyone else to turn up either drooling spazzers or evil geniuses.

    It is more likely that Egyptians married their own Sisters because being close to the Head of a very hierarchical society, lesser beings could not pollute them, they had no equals outside of Egypt to marry, and hence their brothers were the only socially acceptable spouses.

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