Marrying a relative
March 19, 2013 8:14 AM   Subscribe

Someone I know is dating his aunt's(dad's sister) grand daughter. Age difference 6 years. And spoke to me about this, I mentioned I am not sure about the custom. They both have higher education, have good job and decent family people. What would their relationship be second cousin once removed? Is it socially/religiously accepatable if they end up in altar, have kids etc?
posted by globalbuddy to Society & Culture (43 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Depends on the culture. In the Middle East, it's not uncommon for first cousins to marry.
posted by Dansaman at 8:18 AM on March 19, 2013

First cousin once removed. Whether it's socially or religiously acceptable depends upon the society and religion in question, I suppose, but there's a decent Wikipedia article on legality and religious views on cousin marriage here.
posted by Catseye at 8:20 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

They are first cousins once removed. Some discussion here.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:20 AM on March 19, 2013

The relationship is first cousin once removed (his aunt's kids are first cousins).

The social acceptability of this probably depends more on the family dynamics and how close the family is. I have a close family on one side and such a relationship would seem incrstuous. Yet, on the other side of my family, there are a pair of first cousins who got married. They never had kids because of possible genetic issues. Whether this specific pair should have kids or not probably depends more on their specific risk factors -- it's probably worth going to a genetic counselor if they plan on kids. Chance could make their genes very similar or very different.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:21 AM on March 19, 2013

As for the name for this relationship, it's "first cousins, once removed." Her mother or father (the aunt's child) is his first cousin. The child of one's first cousin, or the first cousin of one's parent, is one's first cousin, once removed.
posted by redfoxtail at 8:21 AM on March 19, 2013

I grew up in the not-backwoods landed gentry-type south (Savannah) and more than half of my graduating class was related to each other in convoluted ways like this. They actually sat down at lunch one day and worked it all out.

Now everyone's growing up and getting married and making babies with each other and it's no big deal. It's extremely common and not (considered) a weird thing (by them) at all.
posted by phunniemee at 8:23 AM on March 19, 2013

Does this happen in progressive, liberal cuture too? That is what I am most interested in.
posted by globalbuddy at 8:25 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Whether this is socially acceptable will depend entirely on their community and cultural context. Are you in the US? My gut tells me some judgmental folks might raise an eyebrow, but as a queer person who lives in Chicago, I see absolutely nothing objectionable or weird about this. Then again, I'm hardly in the mainstream.
posted by Lieber Frau at 8:26 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes in US
posted by globalbuddy at 8:29 AM on March 19, 2013

Around here I think it would be seen as pretty weird/gross. That's how I see it, anyway. It's not something that comes up often in conversation, though, so I'm not completely sure. (Canada, very liberal peer group).
posted by randomnity at 8:34 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

In the US, some states outlaw first-cousin marriage, but further away from that is legally okay. Many states allow first-cousin marriage (my wife's grandparents were first cousins), and some families would be shocked but other families not. If families grow up together and feel more related, that might make the participants more uncomfortable.
posted by rikschell at 8:35 AM on March 19, 2013

Does this happen in progressive, liberal cuture too?

What in the heck does this mean?

Cousin marriage is very unusual in the USA, though it is legal in many states and it happens. I don't even think that a "first cousin, once removed" would fall under the cousin-marriage laws, which are more about just first cousins.

Religions differ on this matter. Some have no policy on consanguinity-- as long as the law allows it, the church will allow such a marriage. Other religions (I am Greek Orthodox) have fairly restricted rules about who can marry each other, and any connections have to be very, very distant for the church to allow the marriage to go forward.
posted by deanc at 8:38 AM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would say that's in the "iffy" zone for me. Like, I'm not totally horrified but I can't help but raise an eyebrow. I think how well they knew each other growing up would affect my feelings about it. I also suspect that class would affect how people perceive the relationship - if they're poor and rural they're going to be judged more harshly than if they're urban and wealthy.

Also, if they're in a small town (or small community within a big city, or whatever) where they both grew up, everyone presumably knows they're cousins, where if they're not from a small community or not living in a small community then no one will know unless they explain.
posted by mskyle at 8:44 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

A rundown on where cousin marriage is legal and not so legal in the US. The gamut runs from perfectly legal to "criminal offense." Note that six states ban once-removed cousins from marrying.
posted by beagle at 8:50 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

To me, it would seem a bit odd but not shocking. For example, if they are approximately the same age, it would seem less weird to me than a non-familial relationship that had a huge age difference. US, liberal peer group in a very conservative state.
posted by HotToddy at 8:58 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a pretty normal thing in Pakistani culture.

I've got relatives who married first cousins and also know people who have done the same. In fact I know a pair of brothers who married a pair of sisters who were their first cousins. Almost all of these people are university educated and at least half of each couple grew up/were educated in North America/Europe.

I'd wager that if you were to go back a couple of generations you'd find it fairly common in North America as well.

This may be of interest as well:
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:04 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

The way I see it - in a progressive, liberal area the reaction might be "What, you couldn't just meet someone on OKCupid like everyone else?" I keed, I keed.

Different cultures have different norms and values, and in some, cousin marriage is more the norm or at least more accepted. In mainstream US culture, you marry strangers, or at least friends of friends or church acquaintances, at any rate, people absolutely unrelated to you.

The age difference being small will probably go a long way toward making the marriage more acceptable. I would suggest genetic counseling if the couple plans to have children especially if either side of the family has any health conditions that are hereditary or suspected to be.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:11 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

That state by state breakdown beagle posted is interesting. Looks like it might even be a criminal offense in Nevada...
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:13 AM on March 19, 2013

Yeah, this to me reads squiffy, as in: Kentucky, 600,000 people, 15 last names.

Mighty ironic that Kentucky is one of the states where first-cousin-once-removed marriage is illegal, then.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:21 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

There was a really interesting podcast from Stanford Law that addressed this from a social perspective. I can't remember the name of the professor but it was under special alumni lectures. Totally worth finding because it does address the question you're asking.
posted by discopolo at 9:23 AM on March 19, 2013

I think it only makes people squicky because of the fear that the kids will grow another head or something. Genetics counseling would be a good thing for them if they want kids. I think I've read enough Robert Heinlein (Time Enough for Love, specifically) to unsquick my brain. At least with regards to genetic outcomes of mating with a close relative.
posted by jillithd at 9:24 AM on March 19, 2013

Not a big deal- this is more culturally weird for some people then anything else. practically speaking, you have to make sure this doesn't happen too much in the same lineage so that the genetic pool gets mixed enough across generations though. It does increase your risk for some recessive gene diseases, but unless there's been a lot of intermarriage in your family, making a marriage decision based on that is kind of like deciding not to marry someone because they are genetically pre-disposed to breast cancer

In terms of being liberal- I would suggest that marrying when you love, even if society might frown upon your particular relationship, is the most liberal thing to do as long as there isn't something you know that would be categorically wrong with it. Marrying even your first cousin isn't categorically wrong.

Anyway, this is one point of view.
posted by cacao at 9:26 AM on March 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

It's generally legal in US (with some state by state variability). With relatively little fuss they could legally marry.

They both have higher education, have good job and decent family people.

I'm taking from this that you see them as a compatible match. That is probably going to take them fairly far in terms of acceptance. Most people will simply see them as a successful marriage.
posted by 26.2 at 9:31 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think they probably would get some judgement, though most of it would probably be unspoken. For instance, if I were in their position, I'd elide that particular detail if someone I didn't already know and trust very well asked how we met. As has already been pointed out, most states allow first-cousins-once-removed (who are less genetically similar than first cousins) to marry, even states that prohibit first-cousin-marriage. Having kids may come with a very small uptick in risk of birth defects, but so can lots of other variables. They might want to get genetic counseling if they decide to have kids, but unless there's some family history of hereditary diseases, they'll probably be in the clear.
posted by kagredon at 9:32 AM on March 19, 2013

it's probably worth going to a genetic counselor if they plan on kids.

Totally aside from being squicked out by first-cousin relationships on any personal or moral level, there are indeed legitimate biological concerns if they ever have children. I know someone whose parents are first cousins; both parents are somewhat hard of hearing (starting in middle age), and this acquaintance and her brother both required hearing aids by young adulthood. Any genetic trait can be magnified in offspring of first cousins.

The "once removed" part somewhat mitigates this, but not by much.
posted by RRgal at 9:34 AM on March 19, 2013

OK, really, is this any different than, say, if they were both the same gender? They are dating and might get married. Presumably, they like each other, we can all hope they have a long and happy life together. Will some people raise eyebrows at their relationship? Probably. Will some people disapprove? Possibly. Do they have some issues involving reproduction that will give them more to think about than "regular not-so-closely related" people? Yes. If thousands of gay and lesbian couples can negotiate that and survive and thrive, this couple can, too. Assuming they are both competent adults acting without coercion, why should we have any say in who they marry?
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:51 AM on March 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

I live in Toronto, am liberal, open minded, etc, and this just feels pretty close to incest to me. (I know that first cousin marriage is a thing that happens, and it totally grosses me out too. Like a step away from a sibling.)
posted by Kololo at 10:04 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know someone whose parents are first cousins; both parents are somewhat hard of hearing (starting in middle age), and this acquaintance and her brother both required hearing aids by young adulthood.

I know someone who inherited genetic hearing issues from one of her parents. I know several people who have genetic issues on both sides of their family, not because their parents are more related than average, but because they got unlucky. This isn't really something particular to cousins, and the additional risk for first-cousins-once-removed is not that much higher.

(I think they should still get genetic counseling, but also I think genetic counseling should just be a regular part of planning to have a kid, so.)
posted by kagredon at 10:09 AM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Fuck haters, and please don't be one of them. Our knowledge of our own genetics has indeed progressed to the point where we don't need to rely on superstition and prejudice to guide the kinds of public health questions that are the only vaguely but not really legitimate ones people not your friend or their partner have any business having.

It could very much be worthwhile to inquire as to whether your friend knows that genetic counselling, which is generally covered by insurance in the US or very affordable, is available and a good idea. However, from a general public health standpoint, having children with one's first cousin is really not that big of a deal. It has a variety of benefits such as safer pregnancies from mothers' immune systems being less likely to reject their fetuses, and so long as there are not a lot of wreathes in the partners' family tree not really that dangerous. Even then, the ways in which it could be dangerous can now, for the most part, be tested for and have precise odds given so that potential parents can make informed decisions about their fertility.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:56 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Wait so I'm reading this as my first cousin's daughter?
posted by sully75 at 11:06 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

My grandparents are first cousins (1950s Ireland). I think of it as a fun family fact. No genetic problems have been observed. I would be relaxed about cousin marriage unless it's approaching pedigree collapse.
posted by plonkee at 11:08 AM on March 19, 2013

A friend of mine who is from a Pakistani family married her cousin. Her mom and her mother-in-law were sisters. This is in the UK, though she went "back home" as she calls it, to marry.
posted by Solomon at 11:17 AM on March 19, 2013

Genetically, you are really no more at risk of things than the general population by marrying your first cousin, once removed.

HOWEVER! If there are things (like some hearing loss in an example above), they can be SOMEWHAT magnified.
posted by kuanes at 11:53 AM on March 19, 2013

This is unusual among US coastal dwelling middle class white people in their 20s-40s. But who cares?

"I know someone who..." is not accurate medical advice. There is a slightly higher risk of a few heritable disorders in 1st degree cousin pairings, it's worse if there are multiple generations of intermarried couples, but then, there's also a higher risk of disability to older parents, and it would be pretty unusual to call out a couple in their late 30s for having a baby these days.

I just googled a couple interesting articles on the subject:
The individual and Social Risks of Cousin Marriage and What's Wrong With Marrying Your Cousin?
posted by latkes at 2:48 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Wait so I'm reading this as my first cousin's daughter?

That's how I read it too. In my midwestern, but city-folk, family, this would be viewed as pretty darn close to incest. I can't even imagine a relationship with a second cousin being viewed as acceptable (but that's possibly because they are all much younger than me).

If there were a situation where second cousins (sharing one great-grandparent) hooked up, but didn't know they were related until well into the relationship, I could see it being accepted. But even then, it would only be accepted if they were relationshippy. If they were just hooking up, the family would find it creepy.

But if it's legal where they live, then it's at least somewhat culturally acceptable.

(A quick and easy guide to the first, second, removed stuff is this: If two people share a parent, they are siblings. If they share a grandparent, they are first cousins. If they share a great-grandparent, they are third cousins. And so on. The removed gets added when there is a generational gap. My second cousin is my parent's first cousin once removed. And my parent's first cousin is my first cousin once removed.)
posted by gjc at 3:52 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Charles Darwin married his first cousin, so it wasn't that long ago that cousin marriage was more mainstream than it is now among middle class white people. Stephanie Coontz, in Marriage: A History, reports that cousin marriage was common among newly wealthy 19th century merchant-class families in order to consolidate wealth and keep it in the family.

Likewise another common custom in parts of the US would horrify us now - that of a man marrying his dead wife's sister. This way the children would have a (hopefully) kinder stepmother and this might be the woman's only chance at marriage if men were scarce.

Another reason for cousin and in-law marriage was that most people had a very limited circle of acquaintances to choose partners from unless they lived in a large city. If you lived in a small, isolated town and everyone was related to everyone else, you might wind up marrying a cousin because all the eligible men or women were your cousins. Plus marrying outside one's ethnicity (not race, ethnicity), religion, etc. was prohibited or at least looked down on, so again, fewer people to choose from. And, of course, no OKCupid or eHarmony or

I think that as the restrictions on other kinds of marriage (interfaith, interethnic, interracial, and now same-sex) have eased up, the "ick" factor towards marrying a relative has increased perhaps because of the freedom of choice available and the idea that we should marry "for love."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:37 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

One set of my great-grandparents were full first cousins. It's interesting family trivia and nothing more, and no one has ever judged me about it. If he was in a position as an "elder" to her, then I'd find it a little weird (like, was he babysitting her when she was a child or something?) but other than that no issues, I think.
posted by asciident at 5:04 PM on March 19, 2013

One of my relatives' ex-spouse married his first cousin. I remember feeling very shocked at the time, and tried very hard to understand what the attraction might be. Eventually I decided that they must have been very deeply in love to be willing to deal with the potential fallout from an action that seems so shocking to so many people here (the US). I can't argue with people who are very deeply in love working to be together.

Now I have trouble getting back in touch with the initial shock I felt, but that could just be a residual effect of all the time I've spent on reddit over the years.
posted by Brody's chum at 6:33 PM on March 19, 2013

The "once removed" part somewhat mitigates this, but not by much.

If there isn't otherwise a large degree of inebreeding, then two cousins are already fairly far apart genetically. If one and only parent carries one copy of a defective gene then there is only a 25% chamce that any two siblings both carry a copy of the defective gene. There is another round of dillution on the way to your friend and his cousin, and one more beyond that to his betrothed.

If this is an otherwise rare event among the general population, the genetic ickyness of this isn't particularly high. On the other hand, a lot of inbreeding isn't rare and random, and instead occurs within a relatively population that is isolated by geography, culture/religion, or consolidation of inherited wealth/power.

My mother's relatives on her mother's side are from another country where they were memebers of a minority religion (which my mother doesn't practice) with what is probably a higher than average amount of intermarriage compared to the US, or even the norms of their home country (i haven't worked out genetic distances, but I have a number of relatives who are married to people who are, nominally, fairly close relatives). I also grew up as a non-mormon in Utah and in college, majored in Biology, with a focus on genetics and molecular biology. My perspective on what is normal is probably a bit unusual, but while I raise an eyebrow at this situation, I don't find it unacceptable given the facts as I understand them.

Apart from the genetic angle, the thing that catches my attention is the generational difference and potential power dynamics but the fact that the actual age difference is only 6 years and the fact that both parties are old enough to have completed "good educations" and have good jobs suggests that they are old enough that it isn't likely to be worth concern.

Wait, what was it that you are concerned with here?
posted by Good Brain at 6:50 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

it's worth adding that they are also cross cousins.

Cross cousins are cousins where the parent/grandparent siblings are of different gender. [ the parents are Dad and Dad's sister.]

Wikipedia is currently of the opinion that there is less slightly taboo about cross cousin marriages.

"John Maynard Smith (1978), in The Evolution of Sex[1] notes that Richard D. Alexander suggested that paternity uncertainty may help account for the intermarriage taboo on parallel, but not on cross cousins. Fathers who are also brothers may overtly or covertly share sexual relations with the wife of one or the other, raising the possibility that apparent parallel-cousins are actually half-siblings, sired by the same father. Likewise, mothers who are also sisters may overtly or covertly share sexual access to the husband of one or the other, raising the possibility that apparent parallel cousins are actually half-siblings, sired by the same father. Note that there is no possibility of any classificatory cousins sharing the same mother. Because maternal identity is never in question, they would be automatically classified as siblings. Only mistaken paternity leads to such errors.
This possibility is much less likely for cross cousins, because in the absence of full-sibling incest, it is unlikely that cross cousins can share a father by overt or covert sexual relationships. It would only be possible if Ego's mother had a brother, and Ego's father impregnated his wife, thereby allowing apparent cross cousins to be covert half-siblings, sharing the same father."

posted by compound eye at 8:03 PM on March 19, 2013

You asked if this relationship would be socially acceptable. In my family it would certainly not be. They would probably be shunned. I think the liberals and conservatives would feel similarly, to be honest.

Friends (liberal) would probably think it's weird, but would not end the friendship.
posted by imalaowai at 9:28 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know of two pairs of close relatives, connected to my family who were raised apart and are now married*. The first pair are first cousins who did not meet until they were adults due to a family feud. They met for the first time after the break up of their first marriages. They tell people about their history, and are actually legally married.

The other pair are stumbled into a more interesting situation, lets call them 'luke' and 'leia'.

Several months into their successful happy relationship they realised they had both been adopted out thorough the same organisation. Both had previously discovered that and that they each had an opposite sex fraternal twin also adopted out around the same time. Last I heard they had chosen not to pursue any further information on the subject.
They do not tell many people their history, but close friends know, it's such an amazing story it just keeps getting out. Last I heard they were not legally married, but live as a couple. They have chosen not to have children.

All four people are highly educated successful professionals, no stereotype drooling inbred yokel.

so it happens even in the big city
posted by compound eye at 10:53 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I realize that I kind of buried one of my points in my earlier post: There are sound theoretical reasons for disapproving of all sorts of marriages, including this one, but an actual marriage between two people isn't theoretical.

There are sound theoretical genetic reasons for avoiding marrying your cousin, or your cousin's child because of the risk of genetic diseases, but in this day and age, there are ways to assess those risks for a given pair of people.

There are sound social reasons for avoiding marrying your cousin's child, but these generally come down to various unsavory relationship dynamics, but for me, and many people I know, our cousins children are all but strangers.

My uncle is married to his uncle's wife's younger sister, which at first glance, sounds horribly wrong, until you realize that my uncle's uncle is 6 months younger than his own niece (my mother), which makes him more like my uncle's older brother. Their marriage seems like it has been a good one.

When my younger brother failed out of college and moved back to Utah at the age of 23 or so, I objected to the fact that his barely 19 year old girlfriend of less than six months had raised the issue of converting to Mormonism so they could be married in a Mormon temple as she had dreamed of all her short life, I didn't approve, but in retrospect, she's a fantastic sister-in-law, a great wife to my brother, and they are great parents to my nephews.

Many people object to gay marriage until they are confronted with the reality of someone they love who wants to marry the person they love most in the world.

I think, as much as possible, marriages need to be judged on their actual merits and deficiencies, because that is what they succeed or fail on. There may be good reasons to disapprove of this particular marriage, but if someone in the circle of your friend and his fiancee disapproves of it on principal, rather than the actual facts in front of them, then they are surrendering to their own prejudices and choosing them over evidence and reason.
posted by Good Brain at 10:54 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

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