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Marrying in the Family : Biology Disputes Taboos Surrounding 'Kissing Cousins'
ABCNews ^ | 3/5/04 | John Stossel

Posted on 03/05/2004 12:25:23 PM PST by ZGuy

Everyone wants to fall in love; it's the stuff of movies, songs and dreams. But what if you fall in love with your cousin?

For one couple, romance bloomed among two cousins who met as adults after a 20 year absence.

"We ran into each other, at a family reunion," Christie Smith told ABCNEWS. "And we just struck it off."

Smith said marrying her cousin Mark brought concerns.

"It was very scary, at first. I thought that it was something that was very wrong," said Smith.

Einstein Kissed His Cuz

Cousins who fall in love have a right to voice concerns. After all, marrying a cousin just isn't done, right?

At least that's what we're taught to believe. Only primitive people who live in isolated places marry cousins, and it's dangerous and leads to creating stupid children.

Or does it? A new study reveals the genetic risks associated with this type of pairing are not as great as once believed.

And consider this — Albert Einstein's parents were cousins, and he married his cousin, too. FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt were cousins, so were Prince Albert and Queen Victoria and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was briefly married to a second cousin.

In America, marrying your cousin is legally allowed in 26 states and every year about 200,000 cousins wed. Worldwide, it's much more common — 20 percent of all married couples are cousins. In some Middle Eastern countries, almost half of all marriages are to cousins.

Those Who Say ‘I Do’

But in America, cousins who find love also find public resistance.

"The overbearing concept is that, you know, 'cousins can't get married,' " said Brian Wagner, who has been married to his cousin Caren for 12 years. His dad and his wife's mom are brother and sister.

"Some people see it as 'inbreeding,' or, you know, 'incest,' or something terrible like that," said Wagner.

Caren said she didn't plan on their shared future, although her mom noticed they always liked each other.

"They played together, they fought over toys together. And they just had a happy good relationship as kids will," said Pat Bradfield. "They were real kissin' cousins."

They initially grew up in the same area, but Brian's family then moved away. Years later when Caren decided to visit, their lives changed.

"When she showed up at the airport terminal and come off the plane, it's just like everything came rushing back again," said Brian.

"It developed beyond a 'friendship,' into a 'OK, do you want to get married this weekend or next?' " said Caren.

Her mom says the idea "floored" her a bit, but since she couldn't stop the marriage she was leery of voicing opposition in fear of losing contact with her daughter. Instead, she offered some advice.

"In a marriage such as you're contemplating, you have to remember that you could divorce your husband but you can't divorce the whole family," said Pat.

They did lose one friend who, Caren said, they just didn't hear from anymore after they announced their union.

Legality of the Marriage

Twenty-four states still forbid cousin marriages. The United States is the only country in the world where these laws still exist. "A lot of these laws have been on the books forever and they have just not gotten changed," said Brian.

The laws date back hundreds of years to the time when the Catholic Church campaigned against cousin marriages because in the Bible Leviticus says, "none of you shall approach to any that is near of kin."

Regardless, Caren and Brian had a church wedding in Virginia, one of 26 states where cousin marriage is legal. "We talked to our minister … and he knew and he didn't have an issue with marrying us," said Brian.

Biological Implications

One of the reasons cousin marriage is taboo, is the assumption they will have kids with birth defects.

But a new groundbreaking study funded by the National Society of Genetic Counselors revealed that some beliefs about cousin marriage are unfounded.

Robin Bennett, who headed the study, told ABCNEWS the risks of having a child with a cousin are about "2 to 3 percent" above the average population's risk for having a child with birth defects or mental retardation.

She says while there are risks, they're "not as bad" as people perceive. Other risk factors are higher. For example, there's a 10 percent chance that a 41-year-old woman will give birth to kids with chromosomal defects.

If one parent has a genetic disease, like Huntington's, they have a 50 percent chance of passing it on. Bennett gives parents the risks but would not tell them not to have kids. She advocates that cousins who are romantically involved have genetic counseling before they're pregnant.

Brian and Caren went for counseling, and were told the risk for birth defects was low, but their kids might have asthma which runs in the family.

They now have two boys, ages 12 and 8, and both have asthma. But they don't think twice about their parents being cousins. They're also at the top of their classes in school.

The rest of the family has come around and say they couldn't be happier with how things have worked out. Ultimately, Caren and Brian say it may have been their family connection that led them to fall in love.

"We could communicate," said Brian. "We had the same values, as far as raising children … It's a match."


TOPICS: Culture/Society
KEYWORDS: incest; lawrencevtexas; slipperyslope; stossel
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1 posted on 03/05/2004 12:25:23 PM PST by ZGuy
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To: biblewonk
"It's no one else's business what two consenting adults choose to do with their own bodies" ping.
2 posted on 03/05/2004 12:27:08 PM PST by newgeezer (Just my opinion, of course. Your mileage may vary. You have the right to be wrong.)
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To: newgeezer
That is right.

Mom and I love each other and the State must recognized our union.
3 posted on 03/05/2004 12:29:12 PM PST by CyberCowboy777 (We should never ever apologize for who we are, what we believe in, and what we stand for.)
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To: CyberCowboy777
Nuttin' like a lil' inbreeding ta purify the family jeans (d'oh)... I mean genes!
4 posted on 03/05/2004 12:32:28 PM PST by yle1138
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To: ZGuy
and it's dangerous and leads to creating stupid children.

In some Middle Eastern countries, almost half of all marriages are to cousins.

These facts seem to be consistent....

5 posted on 03/05/2004 12:33:47 PM PST by Onelifetogive
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To: yle1138
lol!

What a joke this whole affair is.
6 posted on 03/05/2004 12:36:19 PM PST by CyberCowboy777 (We should never ever apologize for who we are, what we believe in, and what we stand for.)
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To: CyberCowboy777
Yep, this will be the new defense for the libs. "You can't blame the Islamists, they are simply suffering the the effects of inbreeding. If we could only show them how detrimental inbreeding is to their mental health."

Yancy
7 posted on 03/05/2004 12:40:03 PM PST by yle1138
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To: ZGuy
Inbreeding at it's finest:

Double Exposure - the cult of Warren Jeffs ...

8 posted on 03/05/2004 12:42:37 PM PST by _Jim ( <--- Ann C. and Rush L. speak on gutless Liberals (RealAudio files))
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To: CyberCowboy777
Mom and I love each other and the State must recognized our union.

That's where we're likely headed. You and your mom, your sister, both your sisters, your dog, ...

9 posted on 03/05/2004 12:48:34 PM PST by newgeezer (Just my opinion, of course. Your mileage may vary. You have the right to be wrong.)
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To: newgeezer
"It's no one else's business what two consenting adults choose to do with their own bodies" ping.

It is if I have to pay for:
the medical expenses of the resulting STD,
the medical expenses of their deformed offspring,
the special education of their offspring,
the list goes on..

10 posted on 03/05/2004 12:50:39 PM PST by aimhigh
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To: aimhigh
It is if I have to pay for: the medical expenses of the resulting STD, the medical expenses of their deformed offspring, the special education of their offspring, the list goes on.

Tsk, tsk, tsk... The unintended consequences of The Great Society backfire in the socialists' faces. They want their so-called "freedom" but, they expect you and I to pick up the tab.

11 posted on 03/05/2004 12:57:53 PM PST by newgeezer (Just my opinion, of course. Your mileage may vary. You have the right to be wrong.)
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To: ZGuy
Einstein also helped build the A-Bomb. Doing everything he did is not such a great idea.

Cousin marriage makes a lot of sense in countries without technology or good transportation networks. In that case, the only eligible spouse might be a cousin.

Our country is a lot different.

As the genetic implications aren't onerous, however, I don't see a problem in allowing cousin marriage.
12 posted on 03/05/2004 1:01:20 PM PST by rogueleader
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To: ZGuy
FDR and Eleanor were very distant cousins--5th cousins, once removed, I believed. That means that a great-great-great-grandfather of Franklin's was the same person as a great-great-great-great-grandfather of Eleanor's. A person has 32 great-great-great-grandparents and 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents, so the possibility of getting a double dose of a problematic gene is very small.

There have been societies where marriages between second cousins were customary.

According to Genesis, chapter 29, Jacob's wives Leah and Rachel were his first cousins (their father Laban was the brother of Jacob's mother).

13 posted on 03/05/2004 1:04:06 PM PST by Verginius Rufus
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To: newgeezer
In Oregon the Statute states: Male and a Female 16 years or older.

I guess if I had a 16 year old female dog....... would that be in dog years?
14 posted on 03/05/2004 1:04:22 PM PST by CyberCowboy777 (We should never ever apologize for who we are, what we believe in, and what we stand for.)
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To: rogueleader
"Our country is a lot different.

As the genetic implications aren't onerous, however, I don't see a problem in allowing cousin marriage.

"

Well, since more than half the states in this country allow marriage of first cousins, I guess that's already been decided.

The prohibition was, and is, silly.
15 posted on 03/05/2004 1:05:13 PM PST by MineralMan (godless atheist)
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To: ZGuy
The laws date back hundreds of years to the time when the Catholic Church campaigned against cousin marriages because in the Bible Leviticus says, "none of you shall approach to any that is near of kin."

This is only part of the reasoning--not a "taboo"--against incest. Since close-cousins already share relatives, their marriage connects those who already have a natural affinity for each other. A non-consanguinous marriage creates a similar affinity for a stranger, and is more consistent with human flourishing. Moreover, it guards against those extreme clan loyalties which are fatal to disinterested republican government.

If we base current anti-incest laws soley on the potential for genetic abnormalities in children, we're already defending a weak position--most states already don't outlaw marriages between two people who both carry a fatal gene.

Of course, our society is so decadent that only "health threats" are believed to be rational grounds for justifying the regulation of vicious behavior. Unless that attitude can be changed, we're in for many more "taboo-breaking" judicial rulings.

16 posted on 03/05/2004 1:14:12 PM PST by Dumb_Ox
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To: newgeezer
I love my computer...
17 posted on 03/05/2004 1:15:00 PM PST by Luke Skyfreeper (Michael <a href="http://www.michaelmoore.com/index_real.php">miserable failure</a>Moore)
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To: MineralMan; sultan88
What if the cousins are Boys??
18 posted on 03/05/2004 1:19:11 PM PST by flicker
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To: yle1138
I thought y'all were Christian. Whatever happened to Acts 10-- “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”

If God is ok with cousin marriage (which is he is, see Leviticus), who are you to object to it?

19 posted on 03/05/2004 1:20:43 PM PST by ChicagoHebrew
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To: ZGuy
The stigma of cousin marriage has less to do with genetics than it has to do with social class.

When the royal houses of Europe kept marrying each other's cousins and producing hemophiliac or feeble-minded progeny, no one thought anything wrong with it, because it kept the bloodlines pure of commoner taint and protected the lines of succession.

To a lesser extent, and for somewhat different reasons, cousin marriage had been deemed acceptable amongst America's wealthy elite families.

But when poor whites in Appalachia or the Deep South marry their cousins, people express shock, revulsion and disdain at the practice.
20 posted on 03/05/2004 1:30:36 PM PST by Loyalist (Tony Clement for Leader: Conservative Party of Canada!)
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To: aimhigh
You (and I) already do.
21 posted on 03/05/2004 1:32:22 PM PST by Cobra Scott
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To: newgeezer
Yes, we must now make sure cousins can marry in every state, too.
22 posted on 03/05/2004 1:33:59 PM PST by Ol' Sparky
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To: Ol' Sparky
An obscure Chinatown reference seems highly appropriate!

She's my daughter!
{SLAP}
She's my sister!
{SLAP}
She's my daughter and my sister!
{SLAP}

Yancy
23 posted on 03/05/2004 1:40:07 PM PST by yle1138
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To: flicker
"What if the cousins are Boys??"

That's not the issue in this thread, and you know it. This is not about gays; It's about cousins.
24 posted on 03/05/2004 1:42:49 PM PST by MineralMan (godless atheist)
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To: Loyalist
"The stigma of cousin marriage has less to do with genetics than it has to do with social class."

You totally nailed it. I hate seeing the stupid kneejerk reactions of certain posters on this subject...obviously they NOTHING of history. Not only was (and still is) marrying your cousin common among royalty and the wealthy but like the article says...there is a VERY small chance of birth defects among the children of such a union.

Marrying a cousin is simply NOT the same as brother/sister or Parent/Child. Anybody who equates one with the other is simply ignorant.

I detest the concept of Gay marriage...but cousins marrying has NOTHING to do with that issue.

For whatever reason, poor people in rural sparsley populated areas that marry cousins are seen as incestuous..but the elite do it and it goes largely unnoticed. Whatever.

Having said all of the above, I see no reason for most Americans to marry a cousin simply because there are so many people to choose from.
25 posted on 03/05/2004 1:44:02 PM PST by FeliciaCat (Life is to short for ugly shoes.)
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To: ZGuy
One lady I know of married her cousin when she was in her 60s. Before they were allowed to be married they had to sign a paper stating they would not have children. LOL!
26 posted on 03/05/2004 1:44:02 PM PST by HungarianGypsy
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To: ZGuy
the risks of having a child with a cousin are about "2 to 3 percent" above the average population's risk for having a child with birth defects or mental retardation.

That's not really very good odds. I wouldn't have elective surgery if the risk of dying was 2-3%. And considering that children are often aborted when amniocentesis reveals birth defects or retardation, this 2-3% could have tragic results.

27 posted on 03/05/2004 1:47:02 PM PST by giotto
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To: Ol' Sparky
"Yes, we must now make sure cousins can marry in every state, too."

That will be up to the individual states, of course. States have steadily removed the prohibition of first cousin marriage over the years. Odds are they will keep doing that.

There's no religious prohibition against cousins marrying. Indeed, they did so in the Old Testament. Our prohibitions in some states are based on some pretty bizarre reasoning.

Now that it's clear that there's no significant health risk, there's no reason for cousins not to marry, if they wish to.

I have tons of cousins, most of whom I have never met, and who live hundreds of miles from me. Why would I not marry one of them, if we wanted to?

This has nothing to do with morality. It has only to do with marriage between a man and a woman who choose to marry.
28 posted on 03/05/2004 1:47:48 PM PST by MineralMan (godless atheist)
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To: FeliciaCat
Sheez, relax... I frankly don't have a problem with cousins marrying. I was just poking a little fun at the liberal sterotype of "inbred" Southerners.
29 posted on 03/05/2004 1:49:09 PM PST by yle1138
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To: giotto
"the risks of having a child with a cousin are about "2 to 3 percent" above the average population's risk for having a child with birth defects or mental retardation.
That's not really very good odds. I wouldn't have elective surgery if the risk of dying was 2-3%. And considering that children are often aborted when amniocentesis reveals birth defects or retardation, this 2-3% could have tragic results."



You misunderstand what was written. Lets say 100 out of 10,000 births between non-related couples resulted in some sort of genetic defect. If the risk was 2-3% higher for cousins, that means that 102 or 103 out of 10,000 would have some sort of birth defect.

The risk is HIGHER. It is not 2-3%

30 posted on 03/05/2004 1:50:47 PM PST by MineralMan (godless atheist)
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To: ZGuy
This article is very disingenuous.

There's a big difference between marrying first cousins and marrying a fourth or fifth cousin (which Franklin and Eleanor were). My great-aunt married her fifth cousin (we never would have known except they were both descended from the same Revolutionary War soldier). They never had any children (I don't know why, ladies didn't discuss such things in front of the children in those days) but I doubt it had anything to do with their single shared ancestor five generations back.

The point this article misses is that ONE first-cousin marriage in a bloodline is not particularly dangerous. It's when they start adding up in the family tree that inherited defects start to concentrate. What are sometimes called "double cousins" or even "quadruple cousins" are descended from multiple first-cousin marriages.

I'm familiar with this problem because I used to breed and show Siamese cats. Every ten or twenty years a REALLY hot male cat (quad or quint grand champion) will come along, and everybody wants to breed to a winner so everybody does. If you don't watch your pedigrees you can accidentally breed double or triple cousins to each other and wind up with horrendous birth defects and/or dead kittens.

That's why the first-cousin marriages in small isolated populations cause such problems. It's not just THAT marriage, but all the other ones back up the line. An isolated first-cousin marriage will have three sets of grandparents, but if there are others back up the line, those three sets may share way too many common ancestors. In other words, as Jeff Foxworthy said, "Your family tree don't fork."

31 posted on 03/05/2004 1:55:25 PM PST by AnAmericanMother (. . . sed, ut scis, quis homines huiusmodi intellegere potest?. . .)
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To: ZGuy
"In some Middle Eastern countries, almost half of all marriages are to cousins."

That is NOT a good argument. It apparently leads to emotional and mental instability.
32 posted on 03/05/2004 1:58:22 PM PST by ZULU (God Bless Senator Joe McCarthy!!!)
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To: Loyalist
"But when poor whites in Appalachia or the Deep South marry their cousins, people express shock, revulsion and disdain at the practice."

But they really like the bango pick'n

33 posted on 03/05/2004 1:58:55 PM PST by Ditto ( No trees were killed in sending this message, but billions of electrons were inconvenienced.)
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To: aimhigh
It is if I have to pay for:

So you believe that any marriage with an increased chance of chromosomal defect for offspring should not be allowed? We should also forbid pregnancy after the woman is 35 years old.

34 posted on 03/05/2004 1:59:41 PM PST by antiRepublicrat
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To: ZGuy
And then I go and leave out the point of all that for the purposes of our present discussion . . . . < blush >

Point is, once cousin marriages are allowed and practiced for some time, there WILL be double and triple cousins trying to marry. It will be almost impossible to determine the cousin marriages as they recede into the past (well, for everybody except genealogy-mad Southerners who can recite their pedigree for eight or ten generations. ahem. )

Probably not as big a problem now as it was in the past with restricted mobility, but there's potential for some difficulty here.

35 posted on 03/05/2004 1:59:48 PM PST by AnAmericanMother (. . . sed, ut scis, quis homines huiusmodi intellegere potest?. . .)
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To: MineralMan
You're right. I did read that wrong. Frankly, I'm surprised that the risks are so low.
36 posted on 03/05/2004 2:00:15 PM PST by giotto
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To: ZGuy
In some Middle Eastern countries, almost half of all marriages are to cousins.

Not a particularly ringing endorsement.

37 posted on 03/05/2004 2:01:43 PM PST by kennedy
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To: MineralMan
Cystic fibrosis, Huntington Chorea, Tay Sachs, Macular degeneration...etc
38 posted on 03/05/2004 2:39:56 PM PST by TASMANIANRED (black dogs are my life)
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To: TASMANIANRED
"Cystic fibrosis, Huntington Chorea, Tay Sachs, Macular degeneration...etc"

You don't have to marry a cousin to get those things, you know.

There are tons of genetic disorders. Cousins who aren't carriers for any of them are at no greater risk than anyone else.

These days, with genetic testing so commonplace, it's smart for every couple planning to marry and have children to be tested to see if they carry the genes for the most common of them.

Aside from that, a 2-3% higher risk isn't all that big a deal. Lots of cousins are married and have nice families, with no problems at all, other than the boring attitudes of people who don't know what they're talking about.

Check this out:

http://www.cousincouples.com
39 posted on 03/05/2004 2:44:24 PM PST by MineralMan (godless atheist)
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To: MineralMan
Gee. They both have the same grandma and grandpa. Eeeeewwww.
40 posted on 03/05/2004 2:51:23 PM PST by itsinthebag
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To: giotto
I don't think the risks are all that low --- cousins would share (in most cases) TWO grandparents. That makes the risk about 1 in 8 of both carrying the same defective gene. In cases where cousins are from two brothers marrying two sisters --- double cousins --- the risk is much higher. Second cousins only have about a 1 in 16 risk of carrying the same defective gene which is about the same risk you have with a total unrelated stranger. Hybrids are healthier.
41 posted on 03/05/2004 2:58:08 PM PST by FITZ
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To: yle1138
I'm southern and I must admit my cousin is a total babe. What's a redneck spose to do! Just kidding. She is hot though.
42 posted on 03/05/2004 3:01:15 PM PST by The Toll
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To: MineralMan
It's not about cousins, it is a turn of the thermostat.

Call into question every cultural and societal decision and position until every form of behavior is accepted by default.

I could care less if a man can't get laid outside his family, just don't expect me to condone it and if you want a law changed to allow your marriage, go through the process just as we all do.

43 posted on 03/05/2004 3:08:06 PM PST by CyberCowboy777 (We should never ever apologize for who we are, what we believe in, and what we stand for.)
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To: FeliciaCat
Who are you to tell me I cannot marry my Mother?

44 posted on 03/05/2004 3:11:04 PM PST by CyberCowboy777 (We should never ever apologize for who we are, what we believe in, and what we stand for.)
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To: itsinthebag
In my family one of my adopted cousins decided it was okay to date a cousin because they weren't biologically related --- it was still considered weird --- their moms being sisters and luckily for everyone they broke it off quickly.
45 posted on 03/05/2004 3:27:36 PM PST by FITZ
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To: ZGuy
Marry your cousin, sure no problem - except your kids will look like the banjo player in Deliverance -- or this guy;


I'm gonna make you squeal like a pig!

46 posted on 03/05/2004 3:31:00 PM PST by Condor51 ("Diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments." -- Frederick the Great)
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To: ZGuy
It's not the "kissing" that is the problem, it's the other thing that results in extreme banjo playing.
47 posted on 03/05/2004 3:33:45 PM PST by verity
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To: kennedy
Inbreeding is no bad thing, as long as you start with good stock and cull the worst third of the offspring. The problem is that, the Saudi Royals for example, failed to do either.
48 posted on 03/05/2004 3:38:17 PM PST by Rifleman
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To: ZGuy

"I may be your husband, but I'm still yer father"
-White Trash Disaster Trailer(an SNL skit that's a riot).

49 posted on 03/05/2004 3:38:19 PM PST by Malsua
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To: Rifleman
But breeding humans --- how are you going to cull? It's easier with animals --- you just neuter or spay the less than perfect when you're inbreeding --- but even with that inbred animals are not the best, even if they have some traits you wanted, they're usually mentally not the best.

A one time breeding of cousins isn't so much the problem because it bring together the same genes for one generation --- but when it's done for generation after generation, after a while all the genes are the same.
50 posted on 03/05/2004 3:43:04 PM PST by FITZ
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