Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Pennsylvania Not the Best State in Which to In-Breed

S'okay -- the good news is, Pennsylvania, along with twenty-three other states, doesn't allow first cousins to marry. The not-so-good news is, Maryland does. Of course, as for the good news / bad news distinction, that really depends where you're standing (as it so often does). For Pennsylvania residents, and first cousins, Donald W. Andrews, Sr., and Eleanore Amrhein, the good and bad are reversed: surely, they think it fortunate that Maryland enabled them to marry.

This article returns to the fore something that came up a couple of years ago that I never forgot, but never really got taken up in earnest: that recent studies suggest first cousin reproduction is only slightly more likely than reproduction by unrelated couples to result in birth defects. Indeed, according to the CNN article, it's like this:

On average, an unrelated couple has an approximately 3 percent to 4 percent risk of having a child with a birth defect, significant mental retardation or serious genetic disease.

Close cousins face an additional risk of 1.7 percent to 2.8 percent, according to the study, funded by the National Society of Genetic Counselors, and the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.

I read this to mean, at worst, first cousins go from a 3 to 4 percent risk of birth defects to 4.7 to 6.8 percent chance. Of course, this increased likelihood of birth defects is probably no more pronounced than that which attends the age of the mother. To cite just one example, the older a mother is, the more likely she is to give birth to a child with Down's Syndrome. Similarly, certain people are genetically more likely to produce children with defects than others, but to restrict their reproductive rights justly would be excoriated as eugenics.

Which leads to my principal point. The article notes that

In the United States, 26 states and the District of Columbia allow first cousins to wed, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Of those, five have requirements aimed at preventing reproduction and one state requires genetic counseling.

This fascinates me, that five states allow such unions but aim to prevent reproduction. I wish I had enough time to find out which states have such policies, and what exactly they do to prevent reproduction. Is it as simple as tubal ligation, or as odd as mandatory counseling aimed to convince would-be parents of their inadequacy to the task ("Do you really want a child when you're the sort of person who would marry his first cousin?"). What relevance might this have for conservatives who reject gay marriage on the basis that marriage is an institution defined principally by its reproductive aspect? Shouldn't they be opposed to this law?

Of course, far be it from CNN to take up any of these questions. Oh, and here's my favorite part:

Christie Smith, 40, founded Cousins United to Defeat Discriminating Laws through Education, in 2002 to overturn laws banning such marriages. So far, the group hasn't found much success.

Note the acronym CNN was dour enough not to note. Awwwwww, isn't that cute? Don't you just want to go out and marry your first cousin now? No? Well, neither do I. But still. It's cute.


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