Back to


quality posts: 17 Private Messages WootBot


“Oh, my Luve’s like a red, red, rose / That’s newly sprung in June,” wrote Robert Burns, and while it’s always sad when a poet doesn’t know how to spell an easy word like “love,” it’s undeniably true that June is the most romantic month of the year. To this day, it’s the most popular month for Americans to get married, just ahead of August and May. We’ve asked Ken Jennings, the famous Jeopardy! champion and relationship guru, to puncture four matrimonial myths that have stuck around for years, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. If you’re not ready to have all your marital misconceptions shattered, speak now or forever hold your peace.

The Debunker: Is It Dangerous to Marry Your Cousin?

It was good enough for great scientists like Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin, not to mention literary geniuses like H. G. Wells and Charlotte Perkins Gilman and musical prodigies from Grieg to Stravinsky. I’m talking, of course, about the God-given privilege of marrying one’s first cousin. (If you’re opposed to the whole aunt-as-mother-in-law thing, I supposed you could alternatively point out that Carlo Gambino, Saddam Hussein, and Jesse James were cousin-cuddlers.)

check your state!

First cousin marriage is restricted in thirty U.S. states, making us the only country in the developed world that doesn’t celebrate the sacred beauty of two near-siblings getting it on. Europe, Canada, Mexico, Japan—all big on cousin marriage. In fact, for centuries, it was standard practice among royalty. Cleopatra’s family tree was so inbred that one of her predecessors married a cousin who was also his half-sister and his stepmother! One Rutgers professors estimates that as many as 80 percent of all marriages in human history have been between first or second cousins.

But what about the birth defects? you probably want to know. Buzz kill! Let’s start with the good news: there is in fact no measurable rise in birth defects when second cousins procreate. For first cousins, according to a 2002 study by the National Society of Genetic Counselors, there’s a small increase. The risk of a serious genetic problem (spina bifida, for example, or cystic fibrosis) is 3-4 percent in an average birth. A pair of cousin parents adds another 1.7-2.8 percent of risk factor. That’s not optimal, sure, but cousin marriage advocates (yes, there is such a thing) point out that this is similar to the added risk factor of a woman giving birth when she’s in her forties, which we haven’t seen fit to criminalize. I can’t believe no social scientist has studied the advantages of cousin marriage. Just think: no fights over which set of in-laws to spend the holidays with!

Quick Quiz: On TV’s The Simpsons, what town near Springfield was founded so that early settlers could marry their cousins (because they were so attractive)?

Ken Jennings is the author of six books, most recently his Junior Genius Guides, Because I Said So!, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at or on Twitter as @KenJennings.


quality posts: 1109 Private Messages whatsamattaU

In Shelbyville, they might listen to Jeff Foxworthy? I remember the first time seeing him on TV, and the joke was "If your family tree is one straight (vertical) line, you might be a redneck."
Yes, I know it's not first cousins he's referring to exactly, although the message in general about marrying those close to a person is what triggered in my mind, giving me an excuse to post Jeff Foxworthy.

and a study among a Pakistani population talking about double the birth defects last year:

" Marriage to a blood relative accounted for nearly a third (31%) of all birth defects in babies of Pakistani origin.

The risk of having a baby with birth defects – usually heart or nervous system problems which can sometimes be fatal – is still small, but it rises from 3% in the general Pakistani population to 6% among those married to blood relatives. The researchers also found a doubling of the risk in the babies of white British women who were over the age of 34. That increased risk, rising from 2% to 4%, is already known.

Every year there are about 90 more baby deaths than would be expected in the Pakistani community in England and Wales because of birth defects. But the issue is highly sensitive because marriage within families is an established cultural tradition."


quality posts: 59 Private Messages RWoodward

“Oh, my Luve’s like a red, red, rose / That’s newly sprung in June,” was written by Robert Burns, not Robert Bruce.


quality posts: 19 Private Messages Slydon
RWoodward wrote:“Oh, my Luve’s like a red, red, rose / That’s newly sprung in June,” was written by Robert Burns, not Robert Bruce.

Ha! We'll call that one an editorial mistake, I think. I didn't even see the typo.

can't make a living as a bay man any more


quality posts: 19 Private Messages Slydon


The lyrics were written by Robert Burns in 1793, in the form of a speech given by Robert the Bruce before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314

can't make a living as a bay man any more


quality posts: 5 Private Messages fightingpillow

The lyrics were written by Robert Burns in 1793, in the form of a speech given by Robert the Bruce before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314

Was that after he said, "You have bled with Wallace, now bleed with me"? While we're looking at the claymore that Hamish tossed?


quality posts: 0 Private Messages dosmith

It is keeping it all in the family.


quality posts: 10 Private Messages cole103

Depends---how does your sister/wife feel about it???


quality posts: 3 Private Messages goldiesmarv

It's fine in most of the South. Just as long as there's none of that gay stuff.


quality posts: 0 Private Messages fraku

It's not just birth defects, if your family has a predisposition towards cancer, heat disease, diabetes, alcoholism, whatever, the children will be doubly predisposed. So why risk it? Get off your butt and go meet someone you're not related to. It's a big bright beautiful world out there full of interesting people, you don't need to be marrying your kin.


quality posts: 0 Private Messages ironlad

SF writer Robert Silverberg took this subject on in a story entitled 'If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?' This discussion seems to center on the idea that ALL married couples will, and want to have children. Not necessarily .. and that takes away the 'birth defect' argument. While it is quite true that people with closely related genetic factors are more likely to have those factors come to the fore in a child, the automatic assumption that they'd be 'defects' is alarmist. That being said, I agree with the commenter who pointed out that it's a big world, go out and meet somebody..