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Please Help Stop Maryland's Ban on Cousin Marriage

khin's picture

Legislators in Maryland are pushing to ban marriages between first cousins in their state. They may very well succeed because last time an even stronger bill passed the Maryland House 82-46.

PLEASE HELP stop this harebrained infringement on a fundamental right by e-mailing these Maryland committee members and their State House leadership. I have done most of the work by writing a letter which you can e-mail. Alternatively if you want to write a short note saying, "Don't pass House Bill 1021, it's stupid," I won't quibble. We at the Cousin Couples site are doing what we can, but without others' support there is no hope of stopping them.

Dear Maryland Legislators,

I urge you to vote ‘no’ in the upcoming vote on House Bill 1021 or its Senate equivalent, which would ban marriage between first cousins in Maryland with the exception of couples over age 65 or with at least one sterile partner. Marriage has been held in the United States to be a fundamental right, one deserving of strict scrutiny to decide if the government has a compelling interest in passing opposing legislation. When facts are separated from fiction, laws against cousin marriage are clearly unjustified.

The standard argument used against such marriages is that they are genetically unsafe. This is highly misleading. In a recent 2002 review by the National Society of Genetic Counselors incorporating several previous studies, the average increased risk of a birth defect in marriages between first cousins was estimated at 1.8-2.7% over the base risk to unrelated couples of 3%. That is about the same as the risk to any woman who gives birth over age 40, because the risk also increases with higher maternal age. Clearly no United States legislature would ban marriage over age 40! Moreover, other people face far greater risks: the risk to those who abuse alcohol during pregnancy, or abuse drugs during pregnancy, or who suffer from certain genetic diseases may be as high as 9%, 15% or 50% respectively. In light of these results, one author of the NSGC study described banning cousin marriage as “a form of discrimination.”

The National Conference of Commissioners (NCCUSL) voted unanimously in 1970 that all US laws against cousin marriage should be repealed. Now is no time to start moving backward. Though rare in the United States, marriages between first or second cousins represent over 10% of the world’s current marriages. Maryland has never had a prohibition since the founding of the United States, and this precedent is worth keeping.

First-cousin marriage is allowed in almost all Protestant denominations. Provided a dispensation is obtained (which today is routine), a first-cousin marriage is also legitimate in Roman Catholicism. The Bible contains no prohibition on cousin marriage and contains several examples of such marriages from the time of Jacob to the time of King David’s successors. This bill is hence supported by neither science nor religion.



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a little night musing's picture
Submitted by a little night ... on

I really wonder what is behind this legislation. The people I know personally who are concerned about it are members of immigrant communities in which cousin marriage is traditional, so I can't help feeling there is more than a dash of xenophobia in it.

khin's picture
Submitted by khin on definitely a big driver of discussion on this issue in many European countries like Britain and the Netherlands that have significant Asian immigrant minorities.

dblhelix's picture
Submitted by dblhelix on

One of my delegates is on Judiciary, so I'll give his office a call.

Do you have a link to the earlier bill that passed? I really have a hard time imagining many on Judiciary supporting this bill. Did Rosenberg, Barnes, Carter, Kramer, Ramirez, Simmons, Valderrama or Waldstreicher really support it last time?

Dwyer, of course, will support it.

khin's picture
Submitted by khin on

Thanks so much for contacting your delegate!!

Here's a link to the last bill from ten years ago. It was cosponsored by the same guy, Henry Heller. Many people were not there then, but I'm afraid Rosenberg and Valderrama did support it. Actually, the majority of Republicans voted against it.

DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

what about all the cousin marriages that are already in Maryland. Even if they are grandfathered in, this legislation will constitute a de facto delegitimatization.

Moreover if this goes through someone will come up with a new way to intefere with people's marriages.

khin's picture
Submitted by khin on

this legislation will constitute a de facto delegitimatization.

For example, here is one person who was not too happy about the effects.