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May 9, 2012

The supposed depravity of cousin marriage: a moral panic we’d be better off without
Posted by Patrick at 08:50 AM * 224 comments

So last night North Carolina voters passed a dreadful amendment to their state constitution, declaring that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.” In the wake of this I’m seeing a new upsurge of people finding it hilarious that many states ban same-sex marriage but allow cousins to marry.

It amazes me that so few liberal-minded Americans know this, but in fact anxiety over cousin marriage is a peculiarly American thing, the product of the same nineteenth-century anxieties about supposed backwoods degenerates and “corruption of our racial stock” that led to the early-twentieth-century boom in “eugenics.” First-cousin marriage is illegal in thirty states, and an outright criminal offense in five. By contrast, first-cousin marriage is legal in all of Europe save for Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia, and legal as well in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, and most of Latin America. Although concerns over cousin marriage have occasionally surfaced in modern European political rhetoric—usually as a coded or not-so-coded way of stigmatizing immigrants from Muslim countries where cousin marriage is common—in law, among Western countries, the US is a complete outlier on this issue.

(Yes, citations needed. In fact I’m writing this from memory; I don’t have time to find all the links I’d like to embed, though maybe I’ll add some in the comments later.)

There are genetic risks in first-cousin marriage, but they’re fairly marginal, and can mostly be addressed by getting genetic counseling before having children. For marriages of second cousins and the like, the risks are nearly imperceptible. In fact, if the consequences of first-cousin marriage were as calamitous as many Americans seem to think, the human race would have died out tens of thousands of years ago. For most of history, most humans have lived in small communities and not traveled very far from home; cousin marriage has been extraordinarily common, and yet has somehow failed to yield a planet full of shambling six-fingered freaks.

The problem with finding it hilarious that some states ban same-sex marriage but allow cousin marriage is that you’re basically trashing those states for having laws which are progressive. And when you slam a state like North Carolina with this stuff, you’re participating in a long American history of using cousin marriage as a way of imputing that poor rural people, particularly poor rural people in Appalachia and the South, are depraved, terrifying, and other. Their physical infirmities aren’t products of poverty, malnutrition, and abuse; they’re because something’s fundamentally wrong with them as organisms. It’s not a rhetorical tradition to be proud of.

Disclaimer: Teresa and I are not cousins, nor were any of our immediate forebears, although both of us can certainly find first- and second-cousin marriages among our ancestors some generations back. This is overwhelmingly likely to be true of you, too. You freak.

Comments on The supposed depravity of cousin marriage: a moral panic we'd be better off without:
#1 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 09:53 AM:

A further irony of the "ha ha North Carolina bans gay marriage but lets cousins marry" wheeze: In fact North Carolina restricts cousin marriage slightly more than, for instance, New York State, where all forms of cousin marriage are completely legal.

Indeed, the actual list of states that allow unrestricted cousin marriage includes quite a few other states that are neither Southern nor significantly associated with Appalachia, including California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Vermont.

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 10:04 AM:

The only groups I know of that have intermarried enough to manifest serious genetic defects are:

1. The ruling families of Europe
2. Especially the Habsburgs
3. The RLDS church

Only #3 is currently a problem.

#3 ::: Joris M ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 10:11 AM:

Anxiety over cousin marriage is also current in the Netherlands, but as far as I am aware purely in the anti-immigration rhetoric.

#4 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 10:30 AM:

I always suspected anti-cousin-marriage rhetoric had all the hallmarks of the eugenics movement.

The first time this was really brought home for me was in an online discussion around Harry Potter fanfic, in which some British fans said they were sick of Malfoy incest-fic being justified by "they're aristos, so they marry their cousins, and it's only a tiny step from that to sleeping with siblings/parents." Somebody asked "wait - Americans think cousin marriage is incest?" An American asked - "Wait - non-Americans *don't*?"

The really horrifying thing, when I investigated further, were the anecdotes about present-day people who were told by their doctors "Well, you seem to have turned out heathy despite your parents having been cousins, but no doubt *your* children will be freaks even if you marry a non-cousin, so you'd better have yourself sterilized."


#5 ::: Brenda Kalt ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 10:35 AM:

Huh? I didn't realize cousin marriage was in the air.

Here in my neck of NC, the passage of the amendment seems like the second shoe falling. We had been warned that it would pass, but I had kept hoping.

#6 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 10:41 AM:

NC has now rejoined the rest of the Confederacy.

125 years from now, books will be written about how the non-Confederate states "forced" the South into this position, and that it wasn't "about gay rights" at all.

But that will be then, and this is now.

#7 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 10:45 AM:

In 19th century Britain (and its possessions, and to a lesser extent the US) the hot issue for a while was marriage with a deceased wife's sister. It was the subject of numerous Parliamentary and internal church debates, as well of popular moral panic in some quarters. And it's almost completely forgotten now.

#8 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 10:46 AM:

Now I'm wondering exactly what both the registrar and the rabbi in Guildford were avoiding saying when asking my mother and her fiance "I'm sorry, but I have to ask this. Are you two related?"

Rabbi and registrar were both startled by "Yes" and then relieved to be told that the relationship was second cousins.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 10:54 AM:

Consanguinity was an issue in marriage laws long before genes were invented. Something weird going on there.

#10 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 10:59 AM:

Brenda Kalt @ 5... the second shoe falling

Everybody now is Shoeless Joe?
Say it ain't so!

#11 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:01 AM:

TNH @9:
Consanguinity was an issue in marriage laws long before genes were invented. Something weird going on there.

Want my guess? I have a guess.

Back in the Hellenistic era, the Ptolemaic dynasty consolidated its hold on Egypt by a number of means. One of the more dramatic ones was the theft of Alexander the Great's body, but slightly better-known is reintroducing the native Egyptian custom of sibling marriage in the royal family.

Many Greeks, even those in the royal court, found this somewhere between disgusting and outright barbaric, and I use the word deliberately. They considered it extremely offensive that a Hellen(ist)ic royal family should go native to that degree. The Romans were also pretty squicked by it, possibly picking it up from the Greeks.

And from Rome, Christianity; from Christianity, Western marriage customs.

#12 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:03 AM:

It's perfectly legal and socially acceptable in Britain, though rare other than among recent Asian immigrants (where it seems to be more common in some communities here than it is in their original homelands - possibly because groups that restrict marriages by language, religion, and caste might simply not have taht many potential partners when they come here)

The idea that it is considered harmful in America would strike most of us as weird. Not nearly as as weird as the idea that many Americans who are neither Jews nor Muslims routinely circumcise their boy children, but still pretty weird.

On the other hand there has been some xenophobic political grandstanding about it in recent years, particularly in parts of the north of England.

There are a great many societies where it is the prefered form of marriage. Old-fashioned structural/functionalist social anthropologists had great fun with it when doing their kinship algebra. Cross-cousin marriage in particular is often prefered (i.e. a woman's children are expected to marry her brother's children).

There are some probably not very likely Just So Stories that suggest its a way of preserving genetic variability in very small populations (whether geographically isolated or highly endogamous for cultural reasons) There is also some evidence that it does lead to higher than average incidence of some genetic diseases in some circumstances. But really not that much.

Try Googling "kinship algebra" for some truly geeky fun. Not nearly as geeky as "The Amazing Routeing Question" but still very geeky.

#13 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:19 AM:

John Mark Ockerbloom @ 7:
I believe that was a holdover from medieval Church rules about consanguinity, with the logic that "sister-in-law is sort of equivalent to sister, so no marrying them." (I think this actually goes back to Leviticus.)

Henry VIII famously had problems with this issue. Catherine of Aragon was married to Henry's older brother Arthur; on Arthur's death, Henry argued that the marriage had never been consummated, and thus Catherine wasn't his sister-in-law, so it would be OK for him to marry her. The Pope agreed and annulled Catherine and Arthur's marriage. Twenty years later, Henry's argument was, "Whoops -- turns out they did consummate the marriage, so my marriage to Catherine was invalid, and I can now marry someone else, right, your Holiness?" Some minor difficulties between England and the Catholic Church ensued.

#14 ::: S Muhlberger ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:20 AM:

I live in a village in N. Ontario founded by the disbandment of a Quebec-originating lumber company. People make jokes about the skinniness of local family trees. Certainly there is a shortage of last names. But then old stock Quebeckers are descended from a small number of 17 th c immigrants.

#15 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:25 AM:

Brenda Kalt #5 - I've been seeing a lot of sarcastic commentary on Twitter (and some on G+) along the lines of "NC allows cousin marriage and just banned gay marriage? How stupid is that?"

Patrick's post came as a relief to me in the midst of my anger at the way that supposed allies outside NC have been reacting to what was a much closer vote than I had ever expected, because of a strong, extremely diverse grassroots effort that was nonexistent a year ago.

#16 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:27 AM:

Teresa @9 - there is good evidence that many non-human primates avoid what we would call incestous matings.

So whatever Plato (or Freud, or Havelock-Ellis, or Levi-Strauss) said it seems likely that our ancestors avoided incest before they developed distinctive human culture or language. So our taboos probably codify pre-existing behviour. The map is based on the territory, the rules are based on what most people already did, they ban behaviour we already avoided. Avoided - did less often than we might have - not never at all. Tax avoiders pay some tax. Just less than the rest of us.

Come to think of it rules and laws and taboos only make sense if they ban things that some people do but most people don't. You don't need laws against cutting your own feet off or eating your own excrement because so few people want to do it there is no need for them. And there is no point in making a rule against something that nearly everyone does because they will carry on doing it anyway - and probably change the rules. The very existence of incest taboos in effectively all human societies is probably evidence that most people don't do it but enough people do to worry the rest of us.

Avoidance of mother-son is probably the most common in other primates, but many seem to avoid sibling matings, and there are some species that avoid father-daughter matings - (i.e. they are less likely to occur than matings between a young female and other males of their father's age, not taht they never happen at all). There is a small literature on whether or not monkeys and apes can recognise their fathers, and if so how. (Individual recognition is not neccessary for there to be a smaller chance of such matings, there are other behavioural mechanisms that can do it - for example female dispersal to other groups, which is common among chimpanzees -and also among humans with the stong implication that we inherited such behaviour from our common ancestor with the chimps)

#17 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:28 AM:

S Muhlberger @ 14... old stock Quebeckers are descended from a small number of 17 th c immigrants

Mars needs women!
So did the land of my birth.

#18 ::: Ayse ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:30 AM:

Ah, consanguinity: when you marry in the Catholic Church, you become flesh of one flesh, which is to say you two people are actually one person in the eyes of the church. This is convenient in a world where women are not allowed to own property but might by some accident of fate end up inheriting some property.

This concept did not go away after Henry broke with Rome, and is embedded deeply in the US legal system today (spouses are automatically and by default allowed to act in each other's place in legal decisions and financial transactions). Which brings us back to why gay people might want to get married at all.

#19 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:32 AM:

Thank you. Especially for this:

And when you slam a state like North Carolina with this stuff, you’re participating in a long American history of using cousin marriage as a way of imputing that poor rural people, particularly poor rural people in Appalachia and the South, are depraved, terrifying, and other. Their physical infirmities aren’t products of poverty, malnutrition, and abuse; they’re because something’s fundamentally wrong with them as organisms. It’s not a rhetorical tradition to be proud of.

#20 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:32 AM:

John Mark O #7:

This particular panic must not have penetrated very far into the area south of Louisville, where my maternal grandmother's family tree includes the results of the following events, in chronological order: two sisters marry two brothers; sisters' widowed mother marries brothers' widowed father; one sister is widowed; widowed sister marries the previously unmarried third brother.

As near as I can tell, this all, not arising from any particular population shortage in the area, had no major effect on anyone's sensibilities except those of later genealogists, who are still having to reconcile various name confusions.

#21 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:32 AM:

Ken Brown, #16 -- All of what you say makes sense. The issue I was addressing is whether cousin marriage is widely understood to qualify as incest. The evidence from most of human history and from most of the modern world -- including the entire "Western" world aside from the US -- suggests that it is not.

#22 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:38 AM:

I was not aware that this was a current issue. Shows how out of touch I am.

Temporary Open Threadiness, inspired by Peter Erwin's comment at 13: y'know those silly polls when they ask "Who would you like to have dinner with?" and then list a bunch of folks. The names one picks is supposed to be indicative of -- something. I just had a yearning to sit quietly, listening, at a dinner table with Gaius Julius Caesar, Henry (the 8th of the name) Plantagenet, Henry's daughter Elizabeth, and Lyndon Baines Johnson.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

#23 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:40 AM:

JMO, #7: As opposed to marriage with a deceased husband's brother, which in Biblical times was mandated when the husband had died without issue, whether either the woman or the brother wanted it or not.

Tangential: The Harper Connelly mystery series by Charlaine Harris has a plot arc about two step-siblings who fall in love and decide to marry, and the consternation this causes in their relatives on both sides. (The couple in question are adults, so age isn't the issue.) They keep having to pound on the fact that they are completely genetically unrelated, despite having been raised in the same household.

#24 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:48 AM:

joann, #20: "[T]he area south of Louisville, where my maternal grandmother's family tree includes the results of the following events, in chronological order: two sisters marry two brothers; sisters' widowed mother marries brothers' widowed father; one sister is widowed; widowed sister marries the previously unmarried third brother."

Given that my paternal forebears go back to the very same area -- my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Basil Hayden (1744-1804) was one of the founding fathers of Bardstown -- the chances that you and I are related are reasonably high. And indeed one of Basil's sons married one of Basil's brother's granddaughters, which was pretty much par for the course out there on the frontier in 1813.

#25 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:48 AM:

Patrick, #21: I never heard it referred to as incest when I was growing up. I was told at some point that first-cousin marriage was unwise for genetic reasons, but that there was no real impediment for less-close cousinship. "Incest" was reserved for sexual relationships between parents and children, or between blood siblings.

#26 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:51 AM:

Lee @23:

I have often heard it argued that the marriage of unrelated people raised as siblings is the equivalent of incest, because it is a marriage of people who already have a very different sort of intimate emotional relationship.

On the other hand, one of the great classics of British literature touches on both that matter and the wider issue of cousin marriage. Mrs Norris, arguing that Sir Thomas Bertram should bring one of his nieces to Mansfield Park, says:

You are thinking of your sons--but do not you know that,of all things upon earth, that is the least likely to happen, brought up as they would be, always together like brothers and sisters? It is morally impossible. I never knew an instance of it. It is, in fact, the only sure way of providing against the connexion. Suppose her a pretty girl, and seen by Tom or Edmund for the first time seven years hence, and I dare say there would be mischief. The very idea of her having been suffered to grow up at a distance from us all in poverty and neglect, would be enough to make either of the dear, sweet-tempered boys in love with her. But breed her up with them from this time, and suppose her even to have the beauty of an angel, and she will never be more to either than a sister.

Of course, it didn't quite work out that way. And no one raised any "incest" objections at the wedding.

#27 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:57 AM:

Thank you for calling this out as an example of "those ignorant hicks" trope.

I've never read about a request to ban Louisa May Alcott's Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom on the grounds that they promote incest. As I recall, pretty much everyone expects Rose to marry one of her first cousins (to "keep the property in the family," but that's another issue). The only question is which one.

#28 ::: Richard Gadsden ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:00 PM:

Certainly from here in Britain, cousin marriages aren't incest. They're a bit odd, and certain counties (Norfolk, Somerset) get jokes told about family trees that are a little short of branches (ie, redneck jokes) but incest? No.

Incest is when you grew up in the same household, IMO.

#29 ::: Jinnayah ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:05 PM:

What's on my list of History To Learn is how the Christian West's extensive taboos against consanguinity in the Middle Ages gave way to preferment of cousin marriage in the Reformation and beyond.

In the mid-twelfth century, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII of France's marriage was annulled technically because they were "related within the fourth degree." This wasn't the real political reason, and Eleanor's next husband, Henry of Anjou, was a closer relation: but the point is that being fourth cousins once removed was grounds for declaring a marriage illegitimate.

Contrast this with Victoria and Albert in the the 19th century, who were first cousins and of a family that had long had a habit of marrying inside the gene pool.

What gave?

#30 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:05 PM:

Lee @23:

The tables of consanguinity and affinity in England covered deceased husband's brother as well as deceased wife's sister, effectively banning levirate marriage in England (from 1835 onward; prior to that time such marriages on either side had merely been voidable and not void).

#31 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:13 PM:

Lee @ 23 (& abi @ 26):
They keep having to pound on the fact that they are completely genetically unrelated, despite having been raised in the same household

There's an argument that the psychological incest taboo (that is, the tendency of most people to not be interested in sex with their closest relatives, regardless of what the specific social customs are) is based on who you grew up with. Supposedly, this led to problems in early kibbutzes where children were raised collectively, so that when those children grew up, they didn't want to marry any of their same-kibbutz peers, because they subconsciously viewed them as siblings.

(This is, I gather, proposed as a general psychological tendency, not an ironclad rule, and is completely different from arguments that sex/marriage among genetically unrelated people raised in the same household ought to be treated as incest.)

abi @ 11:
I think most of the Christian marriage laws on consanguinity and affinity derive from Jewish law (especially Leviticus), so a Ptolemaic origin isn't needed.

#32 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:13 PM:

An uncle-in-law was widowed, married her sister, was widowed again, married a third sister.

We teased the remaining sister that she'd better take good care of her husband or she'd be next. Alternately, as the uncle was a great guy, that this would be her obligation, to keep him in the family.

#33 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:22 PM:

Lizzy L @ 22:
Sounds like an episode of Meeting of Minds...

#34 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:25 PM:

Lee, Abi, Richard

I believe that's sometimes termed 'Kibbutz syndrome' (i.e. unrelated people raised together view each other as siblings and feel no sexual attraction to each other). OTOH, given that many communities in the past were pretty small, this strikes me as a modern taboo.*

I also suspect Egyptian sibling dynastic marriage was slightly squicky than it sounds, given that the kings were polygamous** - so we're likely talking half-siblings, probably raised at opposite ends of the palace, and the marriage more for ceremonial purposes, with heirs coming from the other wives.

* I've heard university co-ed residences often have a concept of "floorcest" - i.e., those living on the same floor of the residence are too close to date (probably because of the potential awkwardness if you break up and still have to share the same kitchen and bathrooms.)

** Assuming you aren't squicked by polygamy and dynastic marriage in a historical context.

#35 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:28 PM:

Peter, Lizzy - or Van Loon's Lives.

#36 ::: David Perry ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:30 PM:

Taboos against cousin marriage has long antecedents in Judeo-Christian legal traditions, of course. As usual, I stop knowing about such things after the Council of Trent, so have no clue what the current canon laws are.

Is there a break between Christian legal taboos and the developing of anti-cousin eugenic ideas?

#37 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:31 PM:

James@30: I think this arises from a misreading of the Torah. While it does indeed command levirate marriage, it also says 'Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother's wife'. This was presumably meant to mean while thy brother was alive, but - given that this could be seen as obvious, following from the general ban on adultery - was reinterpreted to mean after his death. (This, of course, is what called Henry VIII's first marriage into doubt. His attempts to dissolve it were not purely opportunistic - it really did go against church law, though he had a papal dispensation for it.)

Something like the levirate was also practised elsewhere, notably India - the plot of the Mahabharata turns on it.

Regarding the ancient Greeks, while they were indeed shocked by the Egyptian practice of marrying full siblings, marriage of half-siblings on the father's side was accepted. (This, I think, supports the view that it's belonging to the same family unit, not blood-relation, which is significant - those who shared a mother would typically be brought up together, while those who shared a father would not.)

#38 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:33 PM:

ISTR reading somewhere that there was some health cost to repeated first-cousin marriages in a family, observable in being a little less healthy, a little shorter, etc. (Which I think mainly shows up when people from an isolated community start mating with people from outside their community.) But as Patrick said above, most people for most of human history probably paid that cost, because most people only had a smallish number of possible mates, mostly related to them relatively closely. If your family has lived in the same farming village for the last eight generations and you marry someone else of the same description, you may not be first cousins, but you probably share a lot of genes, perhaps more than two first cousins from an outbred population.

Famously, Darwin's family was absolutely full of married first cousins (and Charles Darwin was married to his first cousin), and yet seemed to manage to contribute a thing or two to the world. and live relatively good lives.

At any rate, there are genetic reasons why some people ought not to have kids, either singly or as couples. Not marrying your near relatives is a heruistic for avoiding some of those problems, but you can probably do rather better with modern technology. I know a lot of Jewish couples get genetic counseling to avoid Tay Sachs and a bunch of other related diseases; I assume over time that will become more and more common. Getting married and having kids is surely worth spending a thousand bucks on some tests and an expert to interpret them to head off potential problems.

#39 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:39 PM:

Sarah @34, I was thinking of "floorcest" too. Somewhere - I have no idea where - I seem to recall a suggestion that encouraging a similar taboo might reduce the harassment of women in the high tech workplace. ("Dude! You can't hit on her, she's your teammate.") Wish I could remember if that was a piece of fiction or something else.

I was thinking that this kind of psychological taboo absent actual consanguinity is a different thing from the same-sex marriage / cousin marriage thrash, but I suppose it's not. What one finds squicky may have its roots in a physical reality, but its cultural implementation as a taboo is likely to overgeneralize in unpredictable ways.

#40 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:44 PM:

Aha -- a little googling shows that the "kibbutz syndrome" that Sarah and I alluded to also goes under the name Westermarck effect; the key idea is that people raised in the same family/household till they're about 6 years old will subconsciously imprint on each other as siblings, and be less likely to find each other sexually attractive when they're older.

#41 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:45 PM:

Okay, so reading a little Wikipedia on the Darwin/Galton/Wedgewood family is like reading about a real-world version of Sherkaner. Damn, back to work, if I want to do 1/1000 as much.

#42 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:52 PM:

Another law that people usually get the significance of backwards is the 3/5ths clause of the U.S. Constitution.

#43 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:54 PM:

Sarah@34: While the original Pharaohs did indeed practice polygamy and were probably mostly marrying their half-sisters, I'm fairly sure that the Ptolemies didn't carry over this part of the custom, and did on occasion marry their full sisters.

David Perry@36: But while mediaeval canon law did indeed have extremely stringent restrictions on cousin marriage, I don't think it was a taboo in the same way, because it was possible to get dispensations quite easily (if well-connected).

On later attitudes, here is a nice quote from David Hume's A Dialogue (mid 18th Century, can't find precise date): 'Love between the nearer relations is contrary to reason and public utility; but the precise point, where we are to stop, can scarcely be determined by natural reason, and is therefore a very proper subject for municipal law or custom. If the Athenians went a little too far on one side, the canon law has surely pushed matters a great way into the other extreme.'

#44 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:56 PM:

My maternal grandparents were first cousins, so I can provide one point of anecdata for it being inconsequential genetically. It was a bit startling to learn as a child, but it didn't take long for my parents' and older siblings' take of, "Well, we turned out fine, so who cares?" to sink in. Perhaps more importantly, none of the friends that I've mentioned it to over the years (all USian) have seemed to have any particular problem with it, though there's probably some selection bias there, insofar as I wouldn't mention it to people who I thought would get seriously weirded out.
That said, I'd never really thought about the prejudices involved in anti-cousin marriage views and rhetoric, and have probably been guilty myself of similar comments to those you mention regarding same-sex marriage, so thank you for pointing that out.

#45 ::: Tehanu ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:56 PM:

...and yet has somehow failed to yield a planet full of shambling six-fingered freaks.

Except in [location of your choice inhabited by people whose politics you dislike], of course.

#46 ::: Lawrence ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:57 PM:

Huh. I'm an American, and grew up in Massachusetts without thinking there was anything wrong with marrying a cousin.

Of course, I didn't have any cousins, and three of my grandparents were immigrants, but still, I wonder how I managed to miss that particular meme?

#47 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 12:59 PM:

Patrick #24:

Shepherdsville, mid-to-late 19th c., Magruders and Barrells (some liked to spell it Barrall, which caused its own genealogical confusions). I don't recall encountering any Haydens, but you never know.

#48 ::: Mark J. Reed ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 01:01 PM:

TNH@9: and who invented genes? :)

The fact that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (née Roosevelt) were cousins has been often remarked upon in my experience, even though they were only distantly related. Wikipedia says they were fifth cousins once removed, which means their common ancestor was the great-great-great-great-grandfather of one and the great-great-great-great-great-grandfather of the other. Assuming none of the intervening parents were at all consanguine, that leaves them with barely 1% of their genes in common due to shared ancestry. I don't understand why this should be scandalous in the least.

#49 ::: Mark J. Reed ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 01:03 PM:

s/grandfather/grandparent/ack. Curse you, unconscious patriarchal influences! :(

#50 ::: Manny ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 01:07 PM:

Teresa @2:

The Amish also have notable genetic problems from generations of in-marriage.

#51 ::: Pfusand ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 01:08 PM:


One of the secrets of Egyptian inheritance was that it was in the female line: the husband of the queen ruled, then the husband of the queen's first daughter ruled. This goes a long way to explaining why Ramesses II, after his sister-wife's death, married his daughter, and on her death, married another daughter, and on her death, married a third daughter.

Cousin marriage doesn't bother me; I'm from Rhode Island. My Uncle Bill married his cousin, who grew up in Michigan. (This goes along with the caveats in previous replies.)

What else Rhode Island allows, in the name of religious freedom, is that uncles and nieces may marry -- if they're Jewish. Many an Orthodox couple has traveled from New York to marry in Touro Synagogue.

#52 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 01:14 PM:

Lawrence (#46): well, as noted in Patrick's comment at #1, it's legal in MA.

This led to a bit of very definitely hypocritical behavior, though: after Goodridge Gov. Romney started enforcing a neglected 1913 law that stated that out-of-state residents whose marriage would be void in their state could not marry in Massachusetts. The law seems to have been originally intended to prevent interracial marriages from out-of-state, but would also prohibit cousins marrying if they were from a state that bans cousin marriage...and yet Gov. Romney didn't instruct city and town clerks to start asking all out-of-state couples if they were cousins.

#53 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 01:18 PM:

Seabury Quinn wrote a de Grandin story, published in Weird Tales in 1935, that hinged on brother-sister incest: and had de Grandin in favor of it, in the particular case. ("The Jest of Warburg Tantavul", if you want to look it up -- it's in The Phantom Fighter and other collections). ISTR that there was quite a bit of controversy about it in the letter columns. No, I wasn't reading them then -- I've just heard reports.

I hadn't heard about this being a current meme either, and I'll be interested to see how it plays out. I think you have the right of it, Patrick.

#54 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 01:26 PM:

Teresa @ #2: The Founder Effect is real but rare.

In humans, founder effects can arise from cultural isolation, and inevitably, endogamy. For example, the Amish populations in the United States exhibit founder effects. This is because they have grown from a very few founders, have not recruited newcomers, and tend to marry within the community. Though still rare, phenomena such as polydactyly (extra fingers and toes, a symptom of Ellis-van Creveld syndrome) are more common in Amish communities than in the American population at large. Similarly, there is a high frequency of fumarase deficiency among the 10,000 members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a community which practices both endogamy and polygyny, where it is estimated 75 to 80 percent of the community are blood relatives of just two men - founders John Y. Barlow and Joseph Smith Jessop.
In 1814, 15 British colonists founded a settlement on Tristan da Cunha, a group of small islands in the Atlantic Ocean, midway between Africa and South America. One of the early colonists apparently carried a recessive allele for retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive form of blindness that afflicts homozygous individuals. Of the founding colonists' 240 descendants on the island in the late 1960s, 4 had retinitis pigmentosa. The frequency of the allele that causes this disease is ten times higher on Tristan da Cunha than in the populations from which the founders came.

#55 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 01:27 PM:

North Carolina oddly only prohibits double cousin marriage (your dad married her mom's sister and her mom married your dad's brother, or similar permutations).

The various state rules on cousin marriages become topical because they generated a lot of "full faith and credit" cases on the obligation of a state to recognize an out-of-state marriage that would be illegal under its own laws.

#56 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 01:27 PM:

Sarah @ 34: My college dorm was an incredibly close-knit community -- 120 people who lived in the same building, took classes together, volunteered together, and attended social events together. People rarely bothered to lock their dorm room doors, because we felt like one big household.

We joked about "dormcest" all the time. But it wasn't a psychological taboo at all. There was a rational knowledge that breakups could get ugly when you still had to see that person every day, but it didn't operate at the level where it prevented people from being attracted to their dorm-mates. In fact, there was a constant soap opera going on, with everyone's intra-dorm crushes and dates and one night stands and breakups. (Some of the breakups did get ugly -- but fewer did than you might expect.)

And quite a lot of couples who got together in the dorm ended up getting married. My husband and I are one such couple, and I can think of at least five others just among people who lived there while we did.

I suspect that being raised from childhood in the same close community with someone creates a very different psychological effect, in terms of incest taboos, than joining a community with someone as an adult.

OtterB @ 39, I don't think most sexual harassment of women (in tech or elsewhere) is caused by sexual attraction. It's mostly about power -- a form of bullying, not a mating ritual. If adults felt incest taboos about other people in communities they'd joined as adults, it might change the specific form of some of the bullying, but I don't think it would reduce the amount of bullying.

#57 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 01:32 PM:

Mark J Reed 48-49: No, "grandfather" is right. What makes the marriage of Franklin and Eleanor interesting genetically is that their ancestral relation was in the unbroken paternal line on both sides and that consequently, customs being what they were, they had the same surname. That's unusual. I've never encountered any commentary that there was anything genetically scandalous about such distant cousins marrying. Many people of such or even closer degrees of consanguinity, including I believe among U.S. Presidents and spouses, have married without it being taken special note of. It's the surname, not the closeness of the relationship, that makes this one stand out.

My other favorite surname trick among Presidential families involves Abigail Smith, who married an Adams, and her daughter Abigail Adams, who married a Smith. I do not believe the two Smith families were known to be related, however.

#58 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 01:41 PM:

joann @ #20: among my mother's forebears, a pair of sisters married a pair of brothers; one sister died, and the brother who'd married the OTHER sister died, and the widow and widower married each other. There were children from all three marriages. Confusion for genealogists indeed, and my mother had people who were both her first and her second cousins.

#59 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 01:41 PM:

Caroline @56 it might change the specific form of some of the bullying, but I don't think it would reduce the amount of bullying.

This is, sadly, probably true.

#60 ::: Vasha ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 01:50 PM:

The point in "The Jest of Warburg Tantavul" was that the sibs didn't know they were related when they married, and had never met as children, so it wasn't psychological incest. And the psychological effects are more significant than the genetic ones, so it ought to be okay. Yes, genetic problems are slightly more likely, but by no means inevitable. But the strong reaction to accidental sibling marriages (on the part of both those involved and others) seems to indicate that it is indeed a very deep-rooted taboo in humans, that can't be easily overcome by mere reason.

#61 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 01:56 PM:

IIRC, the prohibition against a man marrying his deceased wife's sister had something to do with inheritance patterns, but I'm not sure of the details.

#62 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 02:04 PM:


That makes more sense in genetic terms, right?
Double first cousins are basically the same as half-siblings: the two double first cousins have all four of the same grandparents. Each cousin has 1/4 of the genes of each grandparent, and so ignoring sex chromosomes for males, each recessive gene in one cousin has a probability of 1/4 of also being in the other cousin.

#63 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 02:13 PM:

It's been decades since I had to learn (let alone consider) Catholic marriage law and its terminology, so I had to get a quick, eye-crossing refresher. In the Church, for various complicated reasons reaching back to Roman law, consanguinity can be an impediment to marriage--practically speaking, first cousins need a dispensation from the bishop in whose diocese the marriage will take place. A dispensation is possible because that degree of consaguinity is governed by ecclesiastical rather than divine law (which covers what we non-canon-lawyers would call incest). In the middle ages (here I'm working from memory), there were also notions of spiritual incest, so that godparents could not wed. Maybe in-laws as well, but my Google-fingers are already sore.

#64 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 02:14 PM:

Naomi #15:

Close? The vote wasn't close by any stretch of the imagination. 61% for the amendment, 39% against it, and only a small handful of counties actually had a majority vote against it: Wake (Raleigh), Durham (Durham), Orange (Chapel Hill), Mecklenburg (Charlotte), Buncombe (Asheville) and Watauga (Boone).

Every other county had majority votes for the amendment, some of them as high as 85% for it. In fact, back in October when the amendment was passed by the legislature, polls showed about a 60% approval rating statewide, so very little in the way of attitudes was changed.

IMO the rural reliance on religious teachings, lack of education and general conservative viewpoints in these areas is what doomed NC to approving this amendment.

#65 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 02:15 PM:

Drat. Make that "consanguinity."

#66 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 02:21 PM:


Are the genetic effects small for sibling marriages? That sounds really unlikely to me. Even for first cousin marriages, I think there are noticable risks--the Wikipedia article suggests that a 20 year old having a child with her first cousin might be running risks comparable to a 40 year old having a child with an unrelated man. And those risks, while not something that should rule out those marriages or justify banning them, are real risks that matter. Certainly my wife and I considered the age-related issues when deciding when to stop having children, because up into your 40s the risks of Downs and other problems go up pretty sharply.

As you get more generations from your shared ancestor, things get better quickly. Siblings share half their genetic material, so any nasty recessive (everyone carries some) has a 50% chance of showing up in your sibling, and if it does, each child has a 25% chance of getting the double recessive. There are more complicated genetic things that go on there, but I don't know enough to evaluate how important they are. (Like, if you're getting a bunch of repeated MHC genes, how much of an effect does that have on what antibodies and T cell receptors you can make, and what antigens can be bound by the MHC molecules on the APCs? What happens when you get copy number variants from both sides--you get lots of copies of such-and-so gene from both your mom and dad, ultimately from their shared parent?) For a pair of first cousins, you share 1/8 of your ancestry (so any nasty recessive you have, your first cousin has it with probability 1/8), and it drops off from there quickly.

#67 ::: Naomi parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 02:36 PM:

John L. #64

I didn't say it was close. I said "closer than I expected." and yes, I was expecting it to be worse than it was. Polls a few weeks before the election were predicting a 40 point spread. Polls from the same people right before the election nailed the actual spread.

Polls from PPP consistently found that many people were not aware of the effects of the specific language of the amendment and that more of them would vote against if they discovered the effect it had on civil unions.

I can also tell you as a very part time librarian that I had someone come to me asking for information about the exact language of the bill, because they hadn't seen it and didn't know where to find it.

For some more background on how it ended up closer than I expected, a possibly over-optimistic article about what could possibly be the result of the GOP's blunder in proposing the amendment in the first place.

I was also very much encouraged by the NC NAACP's active opposition to the amendment. (They saw it as an attempt to divide and conquer natural allies and were against attacks on civil rights.)

So yes, I'm mad as hell, and it wasn't close, but I do think there's room for optimism.

#68 ::: Naomi parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 02:40 PM:

Also, I suspect I'm a little extra cranky on the topic because as a North Carolina resident I stayed up far too late last night watching poll results, and not just because of the wretched amendment, either.

My apologies.

#69 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 02:48 PM:

There was a case in Michigan in the 1970s where a married couple discovered that they were full genetic siblings. They'd been given up for adoption and raised apart and unaware of each other's existence. They argued unsuccessfully that they had no sense of each other as brother and sister, and no common family history, and should be allowed to remain married.

The judge in the case invalidated their marriage, and forbade them from living together as a married couple...but since in Michigan blood relatives are permitted to live under the same roof, he could not forbid them from living together as brother and sister. How he intended to enforce that distinction is not clear to me, nor did I ever find out what happened after that.

With regard to the general topic of incest (and cousin "incest") I think attitudes in the gay community may actually be instructive, since the genetic risk is nil, and everyone knows it is; nonetheless the incest taboo persists. There are those who argue that sex between (male) cousins is incest, and those who think it's perfectly OK. In the fiction written about this they're mostly cousins who haven't seen each other since they were little, removing the family-by-proximity element.

This is all muddied by the fact that taboo-breaking is eroticized in the gay community; I suspect this arises from the fact that our basic sex drives were taboo growing up, and other taboos get associated with that experience (different ones for different people, of course).

The result is peculiar in many cases. There's a set of porn videos showing two "stepbrothers" that became quite popular (for reasons not at all limited to the taboo-cachet described above); some people claimed they knew the participants were actually biological brothers and denounced the videos on that basis, which makes no sense to me, but I guess it triggered their taboo-sense in a way the stepbrothers didn't.

It also seems (from my observation of attitudes among gay men) that the taboo is somewhat lessened if the brothers are identical twins, even though they'd plainly be as close genetically as it's possible to be. Perhaps this is because singleton-born guys can imagine having sex with their own brothers, and react with revulsion; but when they imagine having a twin, they imagine him being themselves, which seems more like masturbation than sex. I'm extremely dubious that actual twins experience each other that way.

#70 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 02:52 PM:

Andrew: because it was possible to get dispensations[to bypass the ban on consanguinous marriages] quite easily (if well-connected).
One wonders if it was, at least in part, kept up as a loophole to get out of marriages that had become inconvenient.

Caroline @#56 - Oh yes, I figured "dormcest" was more a matter of practicality than a strong taboo (I was once in a college play where two of the actors had been dating and then broke up - not the only thing that made said play a miserable experience, but definitely a contribution factor.)

Theophylact @#54 - I suspect founder effect is the reason for the famous black squirrels of Toronto and the surrounding area.

#71 ::: John M. Burt ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 02:52 PM:

Many if not most of the people who voted for Amendment One will live to be embarrassed about it.

That is a firm prediction I am willing to make, based on historical precedent.

It's also the only consolation I can take in this body blow not only to North Carolina but to the nation it is a part of.

#72 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 02:56 PM:

And of course, it's known that first cousin marriage was prohibited on the planet Krypton.

#73 ::: John M. Burt ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 02:56 PM:

John Mark Ockerbloom @7, what always struck me as funniest about laws prohibiting a man from marrying his brother's widow is that in many cultures, including ancient Israel, it was mandatory.

#74 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 02:58 PM:

Xopher @69: It may have been a hoax, but I once came across a letter to an advice column that involved (adult) identical twin brothers in a consensual relationship, trying to figure out whther to tell people - they figured their families would not take the news well, but as they were known to be gay, were starting to face questions from their relatives of "so when are each of you going to find a nice young man and settle down..."

#75 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 02:58 PM:

Xopher, quite amusingly @69:

There's a set of full siblings in Germany who earlier this year failed in their bid to strike the German law invalidating marriages like theirs. Like the couple in your story, they were raised separately—the man had been adopted at the age of four. However, he did meet his sister for the first time when he went to seek out his birth family, so they knew they were related when they got involved.

There was also a recent British case of twins who had been separately adopted, married, and then discovered their relationship. They have separated, and their case is being used as an example of reasons to open up adoption information in the UK.

#76 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 03:03 PM:

I didn't plan or even notice being #69! Thank you for pointing that out.

Open adoption is gaining strength in the US too, though I haven't heard that reason for it.

#77 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 03:08 PM:

A lot of people who write Wincest* include a line about "It's not like we're gonna get each other pregnant, so who cares?"

The older brother is effectively the younger one's mother, and they grew up about as close as it's possible for siblings to be, so the Westermarck effect should be huge. (And it's directly contradicted by canon, which annoys me.)

It's all part of that weird fanfic conviction that every relationship goes better with sex.

* The Winchester brothers (of Supernatural) having sex.

#78 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 03:13 PM:

Do you think that's it, Carrie? I don't read a lot of fanfic, slash or otherwise, but my (weak) sense of where Wincest is coming from is that they're two very attractive guys who lots of people would be only too happy to have sex with, and imagining them with each other is a huge turnon. And the fact that the actors are not related in either a genetic or Westermarck sense plays reassuringly in the background.

But I only know what gay men say about it. Females who write slash about it are different from them in two respects. (In other words: you'd know, and I wouldn't; I'm just surprised by your take on it.)

#79 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 03:15 PM:

John L @ 64: only a small handful of counties actually had a majority vote against it: Wake (Raleigh), Durham (Durham), Orange (Chapel Hill), Mecklenburg (Charlotte), Buncombe (Asheville) and Watauga (Boone)

It should, however, be noted that that small handful of counties (6 out of 100 total counties) accounts for approximately 25% of the total population of North Carolina.

If you add Guilford County, in which the amendment only won by a handful of votes, they account for about 30% of the population.

Clearly, it wasn't enough to outweigh ALL of the other counties. But it's sort of like those Bush-era red vs. blue maps. With those huge swaths of red, it felt like non-Bush-supporters were a vanishingly tiny minority. But if you scaled the map area of each state by its population, you saw a much more even split.

60-40 is a depressingly large margin for the amendment; I genuinely thought it'd be closer than that. But looking at the color-coded county map makes it look more like 90-10, and that's way more depressing than necessary.

#80 ::: Caroline is gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 03:16 PM:

I really hope I didn't forget to put a space after a comma. I'd feel very silly about that.

[Nope, just the format of the URL you used. -- Morag Aretha McCorquodale, Duty Gnome]

#81 ::: Ian Osmond ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 03:20 PM:

A lot of internalized squicks in the Western world are thought to come from the Bible, and they often do.

So, for the record, I just want to get the Leviticus 18 prohibitions out there, just to see to what extent they match up to people's gut feelings of what is and is not "incest." I'm going to guess that a lot of it is going to match up, but there will be differences.

First, note that these generally assume that "you" are male -- the wording seems to imply that G-d is talking to men here, and yet, sometimes men appear in this list as forbidden. One interpretation here is that "uncover the nakedness" of a man should be understood as "uncover the nakedness RESERVED for that man" -- "the nakedness of your father, and the nakedness of your mother, you are not to expose" might be interpreted as "the nakedness RESERVED FOR your father, the nakedness of your mother, you are not to expose."

Okay, here we go:
Your father (depending on interpretation)
Your mother
Your father's wife, even if not your mother
Your sister
Your paternal half-sister
Your maternal half-sister
(whether acknowledged or unacknowledged)
Your granddaughter by your son
Your granddaughter by your daughter
Your father's wife's daughter, i.e., your stepsister by your stepmother (probably -- the language in that line is weird)
Your paternal aunt
Your maternal aunt
Your paternal uncle (depending on interpretation)
Your paternal uncle's wife
Your daughter-in-law
Your brother's wife (note that this can appear to be in conflict with Deut 25:5, which MANDATES this after the brother's death.)
Both a woman AND her daughter
Both a woman and her granddaughter, either through her son or daughter
Both a woman and her sister, (even though several of the patriarchs did it) because it will cause rivalry, unless you marry the second after the death of the first.

So, that list of Biblical incest does NOT include parents' siblings' children, and DOES include several relationships with no consanguinity.

#82 ::: Ian Osmond ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 03:21 PM:

A lot of internalized squicks in the Western world are thought to come from the Bible, and they often do.

So, for the record, I just want to get the Leviticus 18 prohibitions out there, just to see to what extent they match up to people's gut feelings of what is and is not "incest." I'm going to guess that a lot of it is going to match up, but there will be differences.

First, note that these generally assume that "you" are male -- the wording seems to imply that G-d is talking to men here, and yet, sometimes men appear in this list as forbidden. One interpretation here is that "uncover the nakedness" of a man should be understood as "uncover the nakedness RESERVED for that man" -- "the nakedness of your father, and the nakedness of your mother, you are not to expose" might be interpreted as "the nakedness RESERVED FOR your father, the nakedness of your mother, you are not to expose."

Okay, here we go:
Your father (depending on interpretation)
Your mother
Your father's wife, even if not your mother
Your sister
Your paternal half-sister
Your maternal half-sister
(whether acknowledged or unacknowledged)
Your granddaughter by your son
Your granddaughter by your daughter
Your father's wife's daughter, i.e., your stepsister by your stepmother (probably -- the language in that line is weird)
Your paternal aunt
Your maternal aunt
Your paternal uncle (depending on interpretation)
Your paternal uncle's wife
Your daughter-in-law
Your brother's wife (note that this can appear to be in conflict with Deut 25:5, which MANDATES this after the brother's death.)
Both a woman AND her daughter
Both a woman and her granddaughter, either through her son or daughter
Both a woman and her sister, (even though several of the patriarchs did it) because it will cause rivalry, unless you marry the second after the death of the first.

So, that list of Biblical incest does NOT include parents' siblings' children, and DOES include several relationships with no consanguinity.

#83 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 03:41 PM:

Xopher @#78: It could just be that they're both hot as Hell, but I suspect it's at least encouraged by the fic-trope. It's pretty hard to find a pair of characters in any fandom who have a close relationship (positive or negative) and aren't slashed. This extends to friends who are canonically both straight (White Collar, Neal/Peter, and while the actor who plays Peter is a good-looking guy he's not as epically hot as either Ackles or Padalecki), pairs who don't like each other very much (Firefly, Jayne/Simon), and actual enemies (Harry Potter, Harry/Draco). And it happens in fic based on books, where the hotness of the character is all imagined (Vokosigan!verse, Miles/Gregor).

#84 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 03:42 PM:

Also, I see eight counties on that map of counties that voted against. (Yeah, only 8 out of 100 counties.) Not all those results were in by midnight, so I suspect the six county figure was pre-midnight sometime, and earlier than I went to bed at that, because Chatham County had already made the list by then (it's part of the broader Research Triangle community). The last county is Dare County, where Roanoke and the Outer Banks are.

#85 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 03:49 PM:

Xopher HalfTongue @76: Open adoption is gaining strength in the US too, though I haven't heard that reason for it.

There's also the issue of identifying sibling relationships of candidate partners in the progeny of sperm-donors, which is (I gather) becoming more common.

& 78: The whole female fanwriter's fascination with gay slashfic entirely mistifies me. Joanna Russ's take at least gives a rationale for it, but even this is something I can only grok intellectually.

#86 ::: CLP ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 04:06 PM:

Sarah @74: Are you thinking of this "Dear Prudence"?

#87 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 04:29 PM:

CLP - yes, that's the one.

Re slashfic - my suspicion is that there are two basic ways to make porn work* - one is really good characterization and writing**, so that you're happy for these people who get to have sex and you enjoy it vicariously; the other is for both/all the characters to be people the consumer would want to, well, consume. Same-sex pairings thus work better for anyone not bisexual, because you get to imagine two hot guys or two hot girls for the price of one, instead of one hot person and one person you're jealous of.

*There's a third way, which is to write to some very specific fetish, sometimes referred to as a "bulletproof kink" - i.e., "I'll forgive a lot in this story, because it plays to my bulletproof kink."

**And much slash does go this route, but see Sturgeon's Law.

#88 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 04:35 PM:

albatross, #38: Getting married and having kids is surely worth spending a thousand bucks on some tests and an expert to interpret them to head off potential problems.

That is, if you have a thousand dollars available to spend on non-critical medical care. If you don't, you fall back to the guidelines that worked for your parents and grandparents.

Peter, #40: And that's why it doesn't happen to the characters in the book. They were older than that when their parents married, and then they also ended up having each others' backs when the parents "turned on, tuned in, and dropped out" of being functional human beings.

Xopher, #69: Interesting -- you'd think I'd remember that, but I don't. How did it wind up in front of a judge to begin with? Did somebody turn them in, or what?

Carrie, #83: The "close relationship => sex" thing definitely goes all the way back to K/S, and probably predates that. And it just bugs the shit out of me, no matter the genders of the characters, because I spent so much time fighting my parents' belief that it wasn't possible for a man and a woman to be friends without having a sexual component. So to me, it feels as though most of fanfic-writing fandom has taken my parents' (bullshit) attitude and extended it to everybody, and that just sucks.

#89 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 04:41 PM:

Xopher @ 69: I'm told they eventually ended up in prison. It's been lightly fictionalized thus:

The Deeper In
Lyrics and commentary here.

#90 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 05:02 PM:

Re Louisa May Alcott's Rose in Bloom:

pretty much everyone expects Rose to marry one of her first cousins (to "keep the property in the family," but that's another issue). The only question is which one.

Actually Uncle Alec says he's always disapproved of first cousins marrying (presumably on genetic grounds -- he's a doctor). There were a number of people in Great Britain about the same time who thought cousin marriages unwise, including Charlotte Yonge:

"Let me add that those tales which treat of the marriage of first-cousins as simple and unobjectionable do no kindness. It is not easy to put before young girls why it should not be, but it seems to me misplaced delicacy, which forbids them being told that though there is no doubt a proportion of healthy families born of first-cousins, yet that long experience has shown that hereditary diseases are intensified in the children, and that idiotcy, insanity, and defective organization are so often the result, that it is most undesirable, if not wrong, to run the risk of producing such offspring. To marry in the full knowledge of these facts is not trusting God, but tempting God."

#91 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 05:08 PM:

Carrie 83: I thought the essence of slash was that the characters are canonically both straight (frex classic K/S), or assumed to be (Frodo/Sam slash). Besides, when was the last time you saw any mainstream-popular (or even fannishly-popular) SFF with gay characters? OK, Torchwood, but no one's going to write Jack/Ianto slash. They don't need to.

Which is, I think, an important point. Writing slash about characters who are sexually interested in each other in canon is no fun and requires no creativity. Characters who always thought of themselves as straight becoming irresistably attracted to each other are a challenge; how can you make it plausible that they feel that way, and can you make their dealing with it even vaguely realistic? (As I said, I don't read much fanfic, and I expect a lot of it fails, but I think that's why people try.)

And of course they do slash with enemies! The enmity becomes the romantic "meet cute" so beloved of Hollywood. Think Buffy and Spike. And, as above, it's more of a challenge.

Jacque 85: I know at least one out Lesbian who writes gay male erotica, and says she's excited by it even though she has no interest in sex with males at all. I don't fully understand her explanation, but I think it's partly because issues of female exploitation don't have to be dealt with. Might also be because in gay male erotica there's no need to include romance at all if it gets in the way of the story you're trying to tell.

Lee 87: I can't remember. I read about this in the late 1970s, and my memory about it is vague, nor is my Google-fu equal to the task of finding something that old. I do remember one of the younger gay men of my acquaintance saying "but incest? That's gross!" Since at the time most of the people within a 100-mile radius would have said the same about the idea of two men having sex, it was considered ironic that he said that.

John 89: Could be, but the story doesn't appear to match at least my memory, and would they still be doing time 20 years later? The song is from 1998 according to the lyrics page.

But Michigan is a barbaric reactionary state, as you know. So maybe so.

#92 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 05:18 PM:

Before the Supernatural slashfic, there was Simon & Simon slashfic, including at least one story where they had a threesome with their mom.

The flipside of the Kibbutz Syndrome is the "Genetic Sexual Attraction" sometimes experienced by close relatives who were separated early in life. Without that experience of growing up together, they sometimes react emotionally, upon meeting, as if the relative were... not a relative.

I think the basic rule should be "Don't Have Stupid Sex." There's a lot of Stupid Sex around, and incest is just one subset. Unfortunately, it seems to take a LONG time to learn to recognize Stupid Sex, so you tend to have rather a lot of it when you're younger.

#93 ::: LMM ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 05:42 PM:

@87: Re: same-sex pairings: I take the exact opposite approach to slash. My general thought is: "Well, there are two hot guys here, and they're getting it on -- but where am *I*? Oh, right. Nowhere."

I'm not jealous of the female character; I'm identifying with them.

@88: Given a large enough pool of writers, *someone* will think of virtually any pairing that's possible. That doesn't mean that fandom doesn't think that non-sexual relationships aren't possible; it just means that people will sexualize individual (different) relationships.

#94 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 05:56 PM:

Caroline #79:

Yes, I found it very interesting that, other than Chatham County, all the counties that had a majority against the amendment had major universities. Other than Pitt County (ECU), they all voted against this amendment, and, I suspect, these counties also have higher percentages of college educated voters than the more rural ones.

Guilford and New Hanover Counties (Greensboro and Wilmington, respectively) had majorities opposing the amendment only by a scant few hundred votes, however.

#95 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 06:02 PM:

Xopher @ 91: I like Michigan. At least, I did in the late seventies and early eighties. It's the home of Michael Moore. And it's been systematically brutalized by neoliberal capitalism.

In any event, here's the story.

#96 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 06:09 PM:

John L @ 94:
all the counties that had a majority against the amendment had major universities

I wonder if age might be a factor, too -- it's pretty consistent nationwide that the younger someone is, the more likely they are to support gay marriage rights. So if those counties had populations that skewed younger, that might explain part of it.

#97 ::: Slybrarian ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 06:18 PM:

@Xopher 91

I thought the essence of slash was that the characters are canonically both straight (frex classic K/S), or assumed to be (Frodo/Sam slash). Besides, when was the last time you saw any mainstream-popular (or even fannishly-popular) SFF with gay characters? OK, Torchwood, but no one's going to write Jack/Ianto slash. They don't need to.

There's a rather huge amount of Jack/Ianto fic out that that disagrees with you. Its almost certainly the single biggest pairing of the Torchwood fandom. In fact, I see fics about canonical pairings, and non-canonical straight pairings, pretty much all the time and in every fandom. Its almost as if some people write those fics because they enjoy writing about the characters and not solely because they want to make straight characters be gay.

#98 ::: Errolwi ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 06:21 PM:

The list of forbidden marriages (for a man) in New Zealand includes the below (add appropriate entries for Civil Union vs Marriage, remembering that two people of the opposite gender may get Unioned)

(1) Grandmother:
(2) Grandfather's wife:
(3) Wife's grandmother:
(4) Father's sister:
(5) Mother's sister:
(6) Mother:
(7) Stepmother:
(9) Daughter:
(10) Wife's daughter:
(11) Sons' wife:
(12) Sister:
(13) Son's daughter:
(15) Son's son's wife:
(16) Daughter's son's wife:
(17) Wife's son's daughter:
(18) Wife's daughter's daughter:
(19) Brother's daughter:
(20) Sister's daughter:

3. The foregoing provisions of this Schedule with respect to any
relationship shall apply whether the relationship is by the whole
blood or by the half blood.

Full details on 'Notice of Intended Marriage' form here.

#99 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 06:21 PM:

In re kibbutz syndrome, or rather, its inverse … it is a known Thing that full siblings adopted separately and raised apart can often, upon first meeting as adults, become overwhelmingly in lust with one another, even if they're in happy marriages with other people. It is theorized that there is some pheromonal/immunological/genetic variance detection system at work here.

It is common enough that websites and other groups whose purpose is to help reunite adopted-apart siblings have entire FAQs on it and suggest seeking counseling before, during, and after so that the emotional surge doesn't have, um, unwanted consequences.

#100 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 06:24 PM:

Somewhere back in my family tree is a half-sibling marriage - the mother of one died at the child's birth (can't remember if it was him or her), and that child went off to live with his/her maternal grandparents. The father remarried, and the first child of that union later married the half-sibling who grew up with grandparents. This would have been in my great-grandparents generation, and my mother told me that her family still whispered about it.

#101 ::: John Little ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 06:44 PM:

This is as opposed to the modern tradition of appearing terrifying and "other" by banning gay marriage...with gusto, damn you bet.

#102 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 06:57 PM:

@101: Oh, now where did I put my popcorn?

#103 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 07:03 PM:

John, #95: You know what jumps out at me from that story? Patty's adoption. She was 6 years old, and was dragged away from the only family she'd ever known to be given to "parents" she'd never even MET. What did they do, pick her out of a fucking picture album? How in the forty green hells is that supposed to result in a healthy family life?

I can't help thinking that if she'd been left with her family -- her real family, the people who raised her for 6 years -- the outcome of that story might have been very different.

#104 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 07:07 PM:

Pfusand @51: Has anyone tested the status of those uncle/niece marriages contracted in Rhode Island if/when the couple return to New York to live? Specifically, does "she's my wife, here's our Rhode Island marriage certificate" trump the laws against incest?

I got curious and looked up the legalities of uncle/niece marriages in New York a couple of weeks ago, after someone mentioned them to me, though without the bit about people traveling to Rhode Island to get married. Maybe some of the couples in question are staying home, and assuming that the civil authorities won't notice that they're related. If the person I was talking to had been talking about this as involving her own relatives or friends, I'd have passed my bit of research along to her with the strong advice that if people were going to do this, despite the law, both spouses really needed wills. (Having a will is a good idea anyway, as we know, but people will figure that they can put it off because of course they want their husband/wife to inherit.)

While I was poking around, I also found one state in which marriages "closer than second cousins" are allowed if a) the woman is at least 55 years old, b) there is medical proof that at least one partner is sterile, or c) the couple present written evidence that they have had genetic counseling.

#105 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 07:14 PM:

Years ago, a Table of Kindred and Affinity in the Book of Common Prayer proclaimed "A man may not marry... his grandmother's wife." Clearly, the Church of England was ahead of its time.

#106 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 07:42 PM:

Fragano@105: from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: "Affinity Bible, of 1923, which contains a table of affinity with the error: "A man may not marry his grandmother's wife." "

I admit the Book of Common Prayer makes more sense.

#107 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 07:49 PM:

I'm pleased to see that this list of some state laws mentions (at the end) Shelbyville, since that was, in fact, the reason it was a separate town from Springfield:

Jebediah Springfield: People, our search is over! On this site we shall build a new town where we can worship freely, govern justly, and grow vast fields of hemp for making rope and blankets.
Shelbyville Manhattan: Yes! And marry our cousins.
Jebediah Springfield: I was- wha... what are you talking about, Shelbyville? Why would we want to marry our cousins?
Shelbyville Manhattan: Because they're so attractive. I... I thought that was the whole point of this journey.
Jebediah Springfield: Absolutely not!
Shelbyville Manhattan: I tell you, I won't live in a town that robs men of the right to marry their cousins!

(I have to wonder about these laws. Were they fiercely fought over and debated? Or were they merely grandfathered in?)

#108 ::: Kip W gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 07:54 PM:

Demon git! I gnomed.

#109 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 08:30 PM:

John 95: I grew up in Michigan. There are nice things about it, but none of them are political.

Slybrarian 97: I stand corrected, then. I will back off to the position that fanfic, even if sexual, isn't really slash if the sexual relationship is canonical. However, I'm willing to be corrected even on that if my definition is wrong by the actual usage of people who write and read the stuff, which I generally don't.

John Little 101: Care to elaborate? Do you mean that the voters in the majority in NC are deliberately making themselves appear scary and other by voting in favor of the ban? That's the only sense I can make of your comment, since it includes "with gusto, damn you bet."

Everyone has a first comment (going by your "view all by," which uses your email address to sort you from other commenters). If you come back and say what you meant, useful discussion may (or may not) ensue. If you don't, you'll be what we call a "drive-by," and you will be mostly ignored.

#110 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 08:32 PM:

Slybrarian @97 and Xopher @91: And then there are the fics about the more-than-pairings. I'm completely charmed by the slashfics Lauren (notalwaysweak) has done with Big Bang Theory because mathematical permutations + physics jokes = love. (Plus I am always cheering for TransRaj, who charms me.) Also, a sex scene written well from the inside of Sheldon Cooper's head is an amazing thing when done right. The more-than-pairing-ness of the whole thing, though, interrogates issues of straight/bi/gay in interesting ways.

#111 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 08:37 PM:

Sorry, this is the link to Lauren's stories. (The link I put in by mistake goes to a single story in a series. Though it does have Sheldon singing "Soft Kitty" to Leonard to try to comfort him after Priya breaks up with him, which is endearing. But anyhow.)

#112 ::: AlyxL ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 08:39 PM:

Marriage to a deceased spouse's sibling seems to have been illegal in England until 1907, but there seem to have been ways around it, and it doesn't seem to have resulted in any particular social condemnation. I've been researching the life of Frances Waldegrave, who married her first husband's younger brother. They had to go to Switzerland to be legally married, but seem to have been quite accepted as a couple when they got back.

She went on to marry again twice and become a very successful and influential political hostess. I haven't found out yet if she knew Anthony Trollope, but her life reads like one of his novels that he never quite got around to writing.

#113 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 08:48 PM:

Xopher @#91: I thought the essence of slash was that the characters are canonically both straight (frex classic K/S), or assumed to be (Frodo/Sam slash).

As far as I can tell, it's got little to nothing to do with the canonical sexual orientation of the characters; Buffy/Willow didn't get any more or less frequent once Willow decided she preferred women.

It's possible that was a thing in the early days? But these days it's pretty much "Look! Characters! They should have sex!"

Besides, when was the last time you saw any mainstream-popular (or even fannishly-popular) SFF with gay characters?

Buffy springs to mind, though sadly I am having a tough time coming up with others that count as SFF. (Weirdly, the mainstream is better, though the non-straight characters tend to be secondary ones.)

OK, Torchwood, but no one's going to write Jack/Ianto slash. They don't need to.

AO3 includes 2,484 fics with the tag Jack/Ianto, and of the first 20, 11 are also tagged Mature or Explicit. :)

Writing slash about characters who are sexually interested in each other in canon is no fun and requires no creativity.

I find it hard to express how much I disagree with that statement. Not to mention that it doesn't take someone being of one's dispreferred gender for one to not be attracted to them. I don't get the hots for every man I meet, and I'll bet you don't either.

And of course they do slash with enemies! The enmity becomes the romantic "meet cute" so beloved of Hollywood.

"Any sufficiently strong emotion is indistinguishable from lust." :)

#114 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 09:00 PM:

Carrie, I direct you to my #109, where I stood corrected on most of what you've just corrected me on.

But I must say "Any sufficiently strong emotion is indistinguishable from lust" is truly excellent, and I want to use it. Is it original with you (in which case I'll call it Carrie's Law) or is it, as the quote implies, from someone else? Do you know who?

#115 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 09:08 PM:

There are a lot of real-life examples of that. People seem to think that because step-siblings may have grown up together that it's effectively the same as being related.

#116 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 09:11 PM:

There are at least three cousin marriages on my tree in the last two hundred years. Two of them involve second cousins, including my parents, and one is first cousins once removed. There's another one that might involve cousins, but there's no solid evidence that we've found.

All of them are in areas where travel of more than a few miles was difficult in most direction (lots of hills).

#117 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 09:17 PM:

I think fourth degree is not fourth cousins, but third. They counted the degrees up from each person to the common ancestor used the higher count, as I understand it. (Husband and wife are first-degree relatives.)

Any way you count it, after a couple of centuries, a lot of people at the top needed dispensations to marry, because they were related in multiple ways.

#118 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 09:34 PM:

Xopher: Ooops, sorry, I typed before refreshing. :) I did not mean to dogpile!

As for the quote, it's something The Boy and I say, and I don't remember which one phrased it that way first. But you are welcome to use it.

#119 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 09:36 PM:

According to a recent episode of Finding Your Roots I saw while at a writers' conference over the weekend, all Jews are in some way descended from at least one of four particular women who lived at the same time (discovered by tracing mitochondrial DNA). It seems likely then that most of us are cousins of each other in some way.

Also, on the subject of slash, my teen has been reading acres of Sherlock/John stuff. Acres, I tell you. And some of it fairly explicit. So her first porn is slash.

#120 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 09:39 PM:

One of the great bugaboos of sperm donation is the possibility that half-siblings might meet and marry, especially since many het couples still do not disclose the use of donor sperm to their offspring. And some donors are very, very, very popular, with large known sibling groups (so who knows how many unknown siblings there are).

#121 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 09:41 PM:

My biggest problem with marrying the majority of my first cousins would be that they're female (as am I) and thus my marrying them isn't actually legal either. When it comes to my only male first cousin, the main reason we aren't married to each other is because we haven't seen much of each other since either of us were old enough to avoid the standard Mandated Family Gatherings. I think the last time I saw him was at our mutual grandmother's funeral, and the next time I'll see him will probably be at the funeral of one of his parents.

We're actually living about two suburbs away from each other, it seems, but we may as well be on opposite sides of the country.

(And then, of course, our current partners might have a few objections of their own to the whole business.)

Context: Australian.

(Oh, and my take on slash: in the majority of works in the "popular" cultural canon, the majority of the focal characters are male. It is very rare to find even ensemble casts where there is a gender balance of 50/50, and even in these, the male characters are much more likely to be developed than the female characters. As a result, when looking for a way to write relationship stories between the focal characters, the fanwriter is pretty much left with masculine characters to play with. This makes things like slash fiction almost inevitable... just the same as little girls playing with their dolls will "marry" two girl dolls in the absence of a boy doll to involve in things).

#122 ::: LMM ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 10:42 PM:

@119: Just out of morbid (slightly tipsy) curiosity, do you know this about your teen because you've talked to her, or do you know this from her browser history?

Either way, I find it slightly amusing that fanfiction has become a form of sex ed among young fans. (From conversations with friends in their mid- to late-twenties, this doesn't appear to be a new phenomenon.)

#123 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 10:50 PM:

He thought he saw a Buffalo
Upon the chimney-piece:
He looked again, and found it was
His Sister's Husband's Niece.
'Unless you leave this house,' he said,
'I'll send for the Police!'

#124 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:04 PM:

"Second Cousin" by the Steamy Bohemians

#125 ::: goseaward ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:08 PM:

Xopher @78, not to dogpile, but:

But I only know what gay men say about it. Females who write slash about it are different from them in two respects.

Just wanted to ask quickly--different in two ways because slash writers are assumed to be straight women? Some of the early research showed that, but most recent surveys of slash readers/writers find a majority of queer women. (As much as they can capture anything, as many people--probably a majority--just read fic and don't participate in the ancillary fan cultures.)

And Melissa @120, oh that's interesting, and makes me wonder how such families handle familial medical history later in life when the kids are responsible for self-reporting.

#126 ::: Susie ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:13 PM:

Xopher @ 109: I grew up in Michigan too and I live there now. I'm beyond disgusted at the governor and the majorities in the current legislature, but I find your judgment of the state overbroad. May I respectfully request that you allow for the possibility of the occasional good thing happening here politically?

For instance, as I learned only recently, East Lansing has "the oldest gay rights ordinance in [the] U.S.".

Other Michigan cities have followed suit. Not enough of them yet, of course, but there continues to be progress, e.g. the efforts afoot in the one remaining major university town without a nondiscrimination ordinance.

#127 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:20 PM:

LMM @122: I would never look at her browser history unless I suspected there was something illegal going on (she has her own laptop).

She tells me.

She tells me a lot of stuff that most people would not share with their parents. I am careful to remain worthy of her trust.

#128 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2012, 11:25 PM:

goseaward @125: I wonder that too. My daughter was donor-conceived and it is no secret (but I'm a single mother by choice so I don't have to worry about someone else's ego). She knows what I know about her donor's medical history and his family medical history, but that information is somewhat out of date at this point, so things may have arisen that we are not aware of. Some banks let recipients know when there are severe health issues with the donor or with half-sibs, but not all.

#129 ::: Rainflame ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 12:51 AM:

This thread is making me think of that song I'm My Own Grandpa. George Gobel version, which probably dates me.

#130 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 12:58 AM:

goseaward 125: No, because they're a) women and b) writing slash. The joke was that the gay men who've been talking to me don't write slash (with an implication that they can't write). Most of the gay men I know online are dumb as a box of rocks (recently blocked one who insisted that spelling was a matter of—get this—personal freedom); I cherish the spectacular exceptions. (None of the DAABORs are here or on Whatever, just to be clear.)

Susie 126: Well, your current governor is an actual no-exaggeration fascist (search term: Benton Harbor), and it has an anti-gay marriage amendment every bit as bad as the one that just passed in NC.

You're right. That's not the same as "nothing good." But I'm pretty bitter about it, and disinclined to cut MI much slack. It's kind of on my list for "get the good people out, then scrape it into the lake" at the moment. That being impossible, you who live there can still work to change it, but I look at it with much SoMH.

#132 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 02:12 AM:

Melissa Singer @ 127:

She tells me a lot of stuff that most people would not share with their parents. I am careful to remain worthy of her trust.

That's a rare and wonderful gift; my wife and I raised 2 very smart and willful boys, and we have almost no insight into their lives as teenagers outside the home (they're both in their late 30's now), except for the occasional hair-raising remark by one or the other of the form, "Do you remember when we used to ...". They've turned out very well, and I'm extremely proud of both of them, but there were times when I wasn't even sure they'd survive.

I am deeply impressed; you've clearly done a truly great job of raising your daughter (though all the comments you've posted about her forays into fandom have already led me to that conclusion). I know you realize what a jewel you have in her, I hope she realizes, or at least one day will realize, what a great parent she has in you.

#133 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 06:12 AM:

Xopher, I refer you to my most recent comment in the Obama/marriage-equality thread.

#134 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 06:23 AM:

On the slash subthread, the whole trying to pin down the exact definition of slash and canon same sex pairings vs. non-canonical ones etc. generated a lot of discussion in the fandom spaces I hung around in several years ago.

Basically it started being talked about when there actually were some canon pairings to work with (I think the discussion really kicked off with Queer as folk fic, Willow/Tara and then got another dose with Jack/Ianto).

These days I think it's mostly considered that any fanfic story with same sex pairings is slash especially when it's written within the slashfic tradition and genre. There's even some stories that are in some ways het slash. Like an alternate universe version of Always-a-girl!Jack Harkness/Ianto genderswap romance would probably still be categorised as slash.

There's also "original slash" which is slash that's not fanfic at all, i.e. it's written in an original world about characters entirely made up by the writer. It usually reads differently from gay male romance novels because it's again written within the tropes and traditions of slash fic in general.

The whole thing is weird and wonderful and fun.

Then there's the yaoi vs. slash, both are same sex romances but there's some very different tropes and conventions in place there so I'd call them different genres or sub-genres I guess.

#135 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 06:49 AM:

2: The only groups I know of that have intermarried enough to manifest serious genetic defects are

.. you could add in "some Gulf and Sudanese Arab communities" -

and, to a lesser extent, Muslim communities in the British Midlands.

Though the latter has indeed turned into a minor political football after the local MP mentioned it.

#136 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 08:13 AM:

LMM @ 122
I read a Fandom!Secrets a few months back in which several people claimed that "everything I know about foreplay I learned from slash (and it works, too);" adding that occasionally they had to adapt what they'd read for their own gender.

Xopher @ 130
Perhaps he's corresponding from another century?

#137 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 09:04 AM:

Bruce Cohen @132: Well, I'm in the doghouse now because all of a sudden the kid decided she wants working papers so she can apply for an internship this summer.

Problems: she just turned 16 10 days ago (which is when you can get working papers in NY); I'm really sick and must appear with her in order for her to get working papers; her birth certificate is buried god-knows-where in my hoarders-decorated apartment; and the deadline is Tuesday.

Ain't gonna happen.

But of course, I am now Blocking Her Way and The Most Hypocritical Person in the World because I have been urging her for an entire year to try to find some babysitting work (i.e., earn some money) and now she has found The Perfect Gig (though it only pays $350 for a whole summer) and I Won't Do What She Wants.

She's really mad. I hope it wears off soon.

#138 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 09:07 AM:

Melissa Singer @137, ouch. Can you send her hunting the birth certificate?

#139 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 09:23 AM:

OtterB @138: possibly, but probably not--she doesn't like to clean either, and even in a small apt. there are too many places for it to hide.

Plus I I'm a little tired of her assumption that everything can be done At The Last Minute. It doesn't bode well for her plans for junior and senior year in high school. She's got to learn to plan ahead a little bit, and if she has to lose out on this opportunity, so be it. She didn't bother to investigate the internships, which were announced in January, until yesterday.

#140 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 09:48 AM:

I realize the conversation seems to have moved on, but a couple of notes on what people were saying some sixty postings ago:

- I lived in a college dorm which was, er, somewhat "incestuous". (Matt Ruff wrote a book about it. He gets most of it right, but had to leave out the good parts :-) ) There were a lot of marriages, and some divorces. The divorce rate isn't anything unusual.

- As one who lived in NC in the 1990s I wasn't particularly surprised by the election results: Charlotte, the Triangle, and Asheville no, the rest yes. I was a bit interested to see that the Triad (Greensboro/Winston Salem/High Point) was as close as it was, as that area had a reputation of being more conservative than RTP; and my friend from Wilmington is stunned that _that_ area was as close as it was. So NC is getting there. It may be a while before the damn thing is repealed, but it will be.

#141 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 09:48 AM:

Melissa Singer @139, understandable, both that things can hide well even in a small apartment, and that there needs to be learning about wait-until-the-last-minute-and-have-a-crisis. I was just thinking that I had surprisingly good results with my daughter on a few occasions with "You want it, you do the legwork."

#142 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 10:50 AM:

OtterB: We're working on that, currently with her applying for APUSH (A.P. U.S. History) for next fall. She must: fill out the application; get a recommendation from her current Global History teacher; speak to the APUSH teacher about why she wants to take the class; keep her overall average at 85 or higher and her Global Grade at 90 or higher; and pass the Regents (statewide exam) in June with at least an 85, and as part of that, write a really good essay. Obviously the grades and the test we won't know about until the end of June, but the first three things need to be done in the next couple of weeks. We found out about this on Tuesday. She's asked her Global teacher for a recommendation and so far, that's it.

I'm trying to figure out if I should ask or remind her about the other two steps, and am leaning toward ask rather than nudge. And not every day either.

She also needs to find out about College Now courses which might be offered in the Fall, since she's starting to finish her graduation requirements even though she's still a sophomoere.

#143 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 11:31 AM:

Melissa, #139: Ouch. Yeah, last-minute stuff is a pain to deal with, and I say this as the partner of the King Of Crisis Priority Planning. OTOH, the fact that this sort of thing happens to you so rarely is a Good Thing.

#144 ::: Ayse ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 12:12 PM:

Melissa Singer @142: "I'm trying to figure out if I should ask or remind her about the other two steps, and am leaning toward ask rather than nudge. And not every day either."

Speaking as somebody whose parents largely chose to let me fall into my own holes and only occasionally offered a hand out, it would be a kindness to offer her some advice on planning and preparedness in addition to the hard lessons when she fails. And by advice I do not mean nagging her or yelling at her to get things done. But it sounds like you already know how to talk to your kid with respect as well as parental authority.

#145 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 12:37 PM:

Melissa Singer @139: Plus I I'm a little tired of her assumption that everything can be done At The Last Minute.

Butbutbut—! "If it wasn't for the last minute, nothing would ever get done!" (quote written on a coworker's blackboard)

#146 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 12:42 PM:

I am a past master of the Last Minute save, and frankly, it's not a trait I want to pass on. It adds a huge amount of stress to life. And we're entering a period where Last Minute will not work--college search!

Ayse, thanks for your perspective. I've struggled with this myself. When she was younger, I stepped in a lot more and a lot earlier. But in middle school, I started urging her to take action on her own when there were problems, and stepped in if she couldn't get a resolution or the person she approached was intransigent. Middle school was quite rough for a variety of reasons and I was glad to have my hand on the tiller.

In high school, she has become much more proactive, though I can understand that there are times when she wants other people to take decisions out of her hands. I try to talk situations through with her and get her to the point where she can see what decision to make and what steps to take, but I've still laid down the law from time to time.

It's Not Easy. It's also Not the Way my Parents did it, so I'm feeling my way.

Reality checks and other perspectives are important.

#147 ::: Mark J. Reed ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 01:21 PM:

David Goldfarb@72: was it implied somewhere that Kal and Kara would have gotten married otherwise? Or just mentioned in response to someone who assumed they were married instead of cousins?

In current continuity, Kara would be a cradle robber...

#148 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 01:50 PM:

Patrick: Yeah, I know. It's really difficult to figure out how to punish, or even pressure, a state. In fact it's hard to figure out whether it's even appropriate to do that. Talking about boycotting the worst states in the politics thread, I pointed out that it's really difficult these days, then said:

Then it gets harder. The states that ban SSM and Civil Unions are many. And then also the tourist attractions in those states are in the liberal areas, so to get at the economy of the whole state you have to hurt the progressives first. Not going to Disney World is easy (at least for me), but skipping Mardi Gras (and Southern Decadence) is a little more of a hardship (for lots of gay men, though again not for me), and do we really want to boycott WisCon? Ugh.
So abi's right; there's a lot to undo. And looks like boycotts are not going to be viable at this stage. (Later, when there are only one or two states keeping their bans—my bet would be on South Carolina and Alabama, the last states to repeal their anti-miscegenation laws—we can boycott them.)
I can't think of any way to pressure a state except the economic, or any way to economically pressure a state that only hurts the people who voted against equality. This sucks. I don't have an answer.

#149 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 02:00 PM:

I can't think of any way to pressure a state except the economic, or any way to economically pressure a state that only hurts the people who voted against equality.

Well, that may be the wrong approach - maybe pressure the politicians themselves. Write letters. Donate to their opponents. More subtly, find the politicians in your own state who supported it, and raise money for them. (Publicly.) Or find a tolerant business (hotel or something) in the state and patronise that.

#150 ::: cofax ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 02:42 PM:

Returning briefly to the whole Wincest & slash issue:

The Supernatural fandom as a whole is quite familiar with the Westermark phenomenon, and also the phenomenon of raised-apart siblings finding each other sexually attractive. It makes for interesting and often raucous discussions.

My incest-squick remains firmly in place, so I'm not a reader of Wincest (wasn't, even when I was still in the fandom), but my understanding is that the appeal is part the visual of two gorgeous men together, part the very close and yet messy emotional bond between the two brothers, part the breaching of the incest taboo itself, and part the fact that they are (or were) Us Alone Against the World.

What's worth remembering about slash (or het) fanfiction is that it's only partly about the porn: from my experience, the biggest draw is the emotional content. Overcoming obstacles, either from internal homophobia or externally-imposed (such as DADT or even a straight marriage), is one of the major tropes of slash fiction.

And, you might note, also one of the tropes of straight romance novels. There's a reason why most of the fans I know don't read much romance anymore: they get their emotional hit from reading fanfic online, either slash or het -- or poly.

#151 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 02:59 PM:

Melissa, #142: On the ask-vs.nudge issue, I suggest questions in the form of, "Have you heard back from X about Y yet?" This is subtle; you're expressing the expectation that of course she's already done what she has to do, and now the ball is in their court. And people do have a tendency to live up to (or down to) others' expectations, so that may be a more effective form of nudge than nudging directly.

#152 ::: LMM ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 03:05 PM:

@148,149: This is round-about but ... one approach may be to apply economic pressure not to the state but to the major corporations in the state.

In Indiana last year, a constitutional ban on gay marriage was proposed. Eli Lilly -- one of Indianapolis's major employers -- came out against it, pointing out that it will make it more difficult to address top talent to the state.

I don't know if that will make any difference in the long run. It may very well not change anything. But I think that if the legislators are made to understand not that the state itself will be under economic pressure but that the corporations that support the state's economy are, that may help discourage bans.

#153 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 06:49 PM:

I think the particularly Victorian panic over deceased-wife's-sister comes from a particularly Victorian catenary: that unmarried sisters lived with their sister and brother-in-law (rather than living in a multi-generational household of a patriarch a generation or two older than they were); that emotional bonds were focussed on the Angel(s) in the House; that there was no friendship between unrelated men and women. If everyone knows it's possible to marry living-wife's-live-in-sister, the emotional valence of the sibling-in-law relationship must be confusing.

There must be a dozen Problem Novels along a whole gradient of prurience here, but I can't think of one.

#154 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 06:53 PM:

I see someone's mentioned the Westermarck effect; let me add that the effect in question is triggered during a critical period, a chunk of the toddler years. The key factor seems to be "domestic intimacy", which I heard described as "sharing the same potty". It was discovered at the beginning of the 20th century, when China had a fashion for child marriages where the bride was sent as a child to live and be raised with the husband. When they grew up, there tended to be this little problem....

Regarding siblings who meet as adults and fall in love: consider that an amazing amount of our personality, and especially our temperament, is heritable. So when meeting a previously-unknown sibling, you're liable to find someone whose temperament and perhaps even attitudes are remarkably similar to your own....

#155 ::: Jörg Raddatz ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 07:52 PM:

Another datapoint: My maternal grandparents were first cousins. They would have been able to get a civil marriage without any problems (and that is the one that matters in Germany), but since the also wanted to get married in a catholic church, they had to get a dispensation (that was in the early 1920s).

Regarding incest: I was quite surprised to learn that a relationsip or marriage beteween uncle an niece or aunt and nephew is perfectly legal and no incest at all. That certainly feels strange to me.

Another thing regarding incestuous behaviour: According to German law, only "Beischlaf" constitutes forbidden incest, and that means vaginal intercourse. So, in Germany neither two sisters nor two brothers can commit incest.

#156 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 07:53 PM:

Mark J. Reed @147: There was a story called "Superman's Super-Courtship" in which Supergirl tried to set up Superman with various women. (I have it in a Legion Archives collection; it's there because one of them was Saturn Woman of the adult Legion of Super-Heroes -- that one failed when it came out that she was already married to Lightning Man.) After several failed attempts, Superman said approximately, "If I were to get married, it would be to someone super and lovable -- like you! But we come from Krypton, where the marriage of cousins was unlawful!"

(So they used a super-science machine to find a woman on another planet who was Kara's double. She and Superman had a whirlwind romance, but it all ended in tears when it turned out that some element on Earth was toxic to her -- naturally she was too self-sacrificing to allow Superman to move to her world.)

#157 ::: John Little ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 08:01 PM:

(Apologies: not trying to 'do a drive-by', just got very busy.)

To elaborate: I do _not_ believe that inhabitants of the states passing anti-{same-sex marriage} ordinances are _trying_ to be terrifying and 'other' to me, as I'm not that important, nor to people like me (for the most part: maybe some delight in tweaking our collective, and in their eyes probably hooked, nose), since I would assume good faith, that they are doing this in the name of Truth and Justice and All That is Good and Right, and as such I should thank them for the warning the next time _I_ think I'm on the side of the angels.

However, the effect of their behaving in this strange way is, in fact, to make them seem somewhat terrifying and 'other', in the senses that I'm scared of this and what else they might do, and that wanting to do so feels very alien to me. In fact, looking back on it, I came to nascent political awareness at the post-{New Deal} high water mark of support for (generally speaking) liberal and even some Left causes, and (in my reptile brain) I feel like since about 1979 the Right have been taking my country away from me (and giving it to their rich and theocratic backers)...which gives me a little more rachmones for the 'Tea Party', who also seem to be labouring under a similar (if spectrally inverted) delusion.

My apologies for not being clear ab initio; the idea that they would be _trying_ to be terrifying and other did not occur to me, since I'm very willing to see even the worst effects as deriving from the seeming best motives, and I don't think terrifying my ideological kinship-group to be that important to these all-too-human non-monsters..

I don't know how much cousin marriage had to do with current Tay-Sachs and Gaucher rates; it's entirely possible that given the isolated conditions of many schtetlach even permitting third cousins to marry would have been enough, especially given a small founding population.

On a lighter note: a feature of nearly every childhood Seder was being introduced to a female cousin and being re-informed that '...we allow cousins to marry'---I think they stopped when either they realised that it weren't embarrassing me, or when they (incorrectly) assumed that I were gay.

#158 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 08:35 PM:

#140 Jon

#159 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 10:37 PM:

David Harmon @ 154: the Westermarck effect .... discovered at the beginning of the 20th century, when China had a fashion for child marriages where the bride was sent as a child to live and be raised with the husband.

I remember reading (some decades ago; source forgotten) that occasionally such couples would run away together to not get married: a sort of anti-elopement. I've always wanted to read a novel based on such a pair -- it strikes me as emotionally SFnal.

#160 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 11:16 PM:

So, in Germany neither two sisters nor two brothers can commit incest.

Is there a way to talk about sibling sexual abuse, at least, even if it's not called incest?

Tangent: I've been reading some really horrible things lately about some psychiatrists' views on incest. As recently as the early 1980s a guy called D. James Henderson wrote an article with the title "Is Incest Harmful?" -- meaning stuff like father-daughter incest, not cousins and such -- and came to the conclusion no, not so much. Far's I can make out he is still in practice. He also wrote a chapter on incest for a well-known psychiatry textbook (Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, ed. Alfred M. Freedman and Harold I. Kaplan, 1975), saying: "There is little agreement about the role of father-daughter incest as a source of serious subsequent psychopathology.
The father-daughter liaison satisfies instinctual drives in a setting where mutual alliance with an omnipotent adult condones the transgression. .. The act offers an opportunity to test in reality an infantile fantasy whose consequences are found to be gratifying and pleasurable.
..….. such incestuous activity diminishes the subject’s chance of psychosis and allows for a better adjustment to the external world.
…… the vast majority of them were none the worse for the experience."

#161 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2012, 11:32 PM:

Clew @153
Also, gendered division of labour:
I always figured that even if the younger woman was not living with her married sister, if the sister fell ill/ died, she'd probably move in to nurse her/look after the children/run the household; in which case I can easily imagine her widowed BiL suggesting marriage after a period of mourning, since she's already serving as parent and female head of the household anyway.

#162 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 12:56 AM:

My father's family, for one. My father's parents were first cousins, it just wasn't obvious because Great Grandpa Isaac changed his name from Beckerman to Fishberg to avoid the 23-years-long Russian draft c. 1860. The goal was, of course, to strip Jews of their Jewishness. So he changed his identity, became his own uncle, and was no longer the guy who was drafted.

Many large Jewish families, even in this country, particularly among Chasidim, have first-cousin marriages.

So my grandparents and most of their siblings looked pretty similar.

#163 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 02:18 AM:

#162 Jon
Two first cousins in my mother's family in her generation married. The family was NOT happy about and and did not approve of the situation, but since the two cousins were legal adults...

There was also a case in an earlier generation of two brothers marrying two sisters.

#164 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 03:47 AM:

Chinese culture says that people with the same last name aren't supposed to marry. Two of my college classmates were both named Wong, and wanted to get married, and they had to do a lot of genealogical research to show that they didn't have any common relatives within N generations before their families were ok with it.

In my family, two of my dad's great-grandparents were fourth cousins (they had the same basic last name, but with different spellings.) My parents are something like 8th cousins, which made it easier to do documentation for the Mayflower thing (my dad's records get to a village in Massachusetts where there's a Tom Stewart son of John Stewart, but everybody there were farmers with lots of kids and not many first names, so we're not really sure we've identified the right ones.) And my mom's father had a bunch of double first cousins from two brothers marrying two sisters.

#165 ::: Jörg Raddatz ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 04:09 AM:

HelenS @160:
IANAL, but as I understand it from quick reading of internet sources, there is a law against incest, meaning the (vaginal) intercourse between grand/parents and their descendants and between brothers and sisters. This means the act as such, regardless of consent, thus also between consenting adults. (There is a semi-famous case of two siblings who were given up for adoption, met as adults, fell in love etc.)

Sexual abuse of children is seen as something different, AFAICT. It is defined as sexual acts (thus, much broader than the VI of the incest law) with a child younger than 14.

But I'll shut up now - that is alle I know or have found about it and I do not particularly want to research any deeper.

#166 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 06:21 AM:

Disclaimer: Teresa and I are not cousins, nor were any of our immediate forebears

Yeah? Yeah? Isn't it a bit of an unlikely coincidence, then, that you both have exactly the same surname?

#167 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 08:37 AM:

Bill Stewart @164: I do freelance genealogical work (to pay for the subscriptions that enable me to research my own tree). One family I was working with, Ohio WASPs with significant money and prestige, had a family custom that my husband described as "When they came over on the Mayflower, their trunk of first names was washed overboard, so they had to make do ever after with just what they had stashed in their hand-luggage."

In my client's father's direct male line, there were five men in a row (son/father/grandfather/etc) with precisely the same legal name -- with no suffix differentiators, at least not legally.

They all had different family nicknames, rotating on a 3-4 generation lag (so they could finally use John again for the first one's great-grandson).

#168 ::: Vrdolyak ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 10:41 AM:

In fact, my parents are something like fourth cousins. (We do have predispositions to things like depression and musical talent, but none of the rumored anomalies.) They came from a smallish gene pool that had at least partially relocated to New York City and Cleveland.

#169 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 11:52 AM:

Elliott, #167: ObSF: Cordelia was hugely confused by Barrayaran history until it was explained to her that the custom was for each Vor heir to be named after his two grandfathers. Miles was supposed to have been "Piotr Miles", but Aral's father flatly refused to have his name attached to an heir who was going to be severely physically damaged.

#170 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 12:05 PM:

ajay @ 166... Isn't it a bit of an unlikely coincidence

Speaking of families and coincidences... One of my wife's late-18thCentury got himself shot in the foot in my hometown. Her ancestor was Benedict Arnold, and I'm from Quebec City.

#171 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 12:10 PM:

Elliot @167 -

It struck me a few years ago that that was the reason for the preponderance of silly nicknames in upper-class families - their legal names aren't really names, they're genealogies - "so-and-so thingummy whatsis III."

Actually, except for the standard of living, being upper-class must be not unlike growing up in a tiny village.

#172 ::: Ayse ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 01:18 PM:

"Yeah? Yeah? Isn't it a bit of an unlikely coincidence, then, that you both have exactly the same surname?"

When I first got married and, as is traditional in at least one of the cultures I come from, did NOT take my husband's last name, I got a lot of flack for it. More than I would have expected given the circles I run in, and from the least likely people, too. I found that a nice way to respond to the criticism of what could not possibly be anybody else's business was to say, "I didn't want people to think we were related." I think I just kind of shocked people into shutting up.

Slightly more on topic, I'm surprised nobody has mentioned The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison, which is a simultaneously horrifying and heartbreaking memoir telling the story of the incestuous affair she had with her long-lost father after locating him. Actually, the most horrifying part is her nutcase mother, but I won't spoil your fun.

#173 ::: MNiM ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 02:02 PM:

Yarrow @#159, I now totally want to write that novel. It really goes have awesome potential as a story.

#174 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 04:21 PM:

ajay 166: Isn't it a bit of an unlikely coincidence, then, that you both have exactly the same surname?

And it's not exactly a common one, either!

#175 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 05:16 PM:

(my apologies if this has been covered) Sarah @ 70: "Theophylact @#54 - I suspect founder effect is the reason for the famous black squirrels of Toronto and the surrounding area."

Some squirrels (and some rattlesnakes) are black in colder areas due to the improved solar heating ability of black fur, which can outweigh the inferior camouflage.

Around Lansing, Michigan (approximately in the center of the mitten) there are black squirrels (along with brown squirrels, grey squirrels and pine squirrels). I jumped like a rabbit the first time I was walking through the woods, and saw a black creature with a bushy tail ten feet from me.

#176 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 05:55 PM:

Barry @175:

I think there's something else going on with those squirrels. When I was growing up in New York City, we had only gray squirrels. In the last couple of decades, a lot of black squirrels have appeared, presumably by the usual mix of immigration and genetic mixing. The local environment has not gotten colder in the last few decades.

If I had to take a wild guess, it would be that that gene is connected to something else useful, or maybe they are better disguised against black rooftops. But being less visible against asphalt pavements would probably counteract the latter advantage: squashed by a car is just as fatal as carried off by a hawk. Maybe moreso: I sometimes see squirrels with part of their tails missing, probably after a narrow escape from a dog or hawk.

#177 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 06:07 PM:

Flip side of that is that most people are driving too fast to avoid a squirrel on the road even if they spot the thing in time, so coloration probably has a vanishingly small effect on their surviving a road encounter.

#178 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 06:32 PM:

The black squirrels in NYC first appeared in Stuyvesant Town a significant number of years ago; they appear to have arisen because of a mutation in the color gene. StuyTown is somewhat isolated, squirrel-wise, so black quickly became a dominant color in that area (StuyTown is separated from the rest of Manhattan in certain ways). In the last two decades, black squirrels have appeared in other boros as well, including one who lives just a few blocks from me.

They've been extensively studied and the coloration doesn't appear to have anything to do with the weather/climate. We also have more red squirrels than we used to. On the flip side, grey squirrels have invaded Britain and are outcompeting the local red squirrels.

NYC squirrels, and other urban squirrels, live differently than rural squirrels. They share trees, for one thing, which is rarely done outside of cities.

(yeah, I read a lot about urban wildlife)

#179 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 07:14 PM:

The DC area also has black squirrels, but they're descended from a population that was introduced from Toronto, so it's not an independent development of the trait. It would be interesting to see how far out from the urban core they go; is it actually a counter-survival trait in areas with more hawks, or is it entirely neutral?

My suburban DC-area yard is more or less equally balanced between black and gray squirrels, with at least one that appears somewhat intermediate (the black is less intense, and has a mottled pattern in good light) and one with a clump of white hairs in its tail.

#180 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 07:21 PM:

When I moved to Jamaica, I was astonished to find that half the people in the district were related to me (and to each other). I was, in fact, related to most of the people for several miles around. Had I remained in that area, it would have been extremely difficult for me to encounter someone in the area who wasn't some form of cousin.

On t'other hand, my family has a strong tendency to exogamy. Witness me (or my baby brother,* whose wife is of Guyanese origin).

*My baby brother insists that he is of pure Taino stock. Who am I to contradict him?

#181 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 07:29 PM:

There are black squirrels in Mirkwood, I'm told ...

Thanks for checking, Jörg. I know multiple people in real life (not my family though) who have been abused by siblings, so it worried me to think of such a thing being tolerated by law.

#182 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 07:31 PM:

lorax @179: It would be interesting to see how far out from the urban core they go.

A squirrel-phobic friend reports visiting Niagara with family — noticing that the squirrels were black, she refused to get out of the car.

Perhaps these squirrels were also from a population introduced from Toronto; but Niagara seems close enough that it may be in the range of the Toronto population.

Rochester NY (further around the lake) is definitely grey squirrel territory.

#183 ::: little pink beast ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 07:59 PM:

As Barry@175 points out, mid-Michigan has a solid population of black squirrels as well, rather tightly confined to the Lansing and East Lansing area. Going to Michigan State, I don't think I ever saw a non-black squirrel on or near campus, but in the nearby small town I grew up in, all the squirrels were greyish brown. There's probably a joke in there somewhere about the MSU campus being Mirkwood, but I'm not awake enough to find it.

#184 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 09:30 PM:

Xopher @174: That brings to mind an Anna McGee story (I think) that I hope someone will tell who knows it well. I can't do it justice. Maybe Patrick or Teresa will relate it.

#185 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 10:48 PM:

The Ontario side of Niagara Falls has black squirrels. I haven't seen them on the New York side though. Haven't been in a few years, though.

Buffalo is definitely grey squirrel territory too.

#186 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2012, 11:27 PM:

In Georgia, we have fox squirrels (Sciurus niger), which are larger as well as darker than the much more common grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis). Fox squirrels are found as far north as Canada and as far west as Colorado. While they can be black, they are very variable in color (hence the name "fox squirrel" referring to the reddish fur of some individuals).

#187 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2012, 12:03 AM:

We have black squirrels in Pittsburgh. Most of them live in Squirrel Hill.

(A neighborhood, not particularly isolated, in squirrel terms, from any other. But the black squirrels mostly live there nonetheless.)

#188 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2012, 12:08 AM:

When we moved from Virginia to western Massachusetts, I was delighted to see and photograph a black squirrel. I heard since that they've been squeezing out the grey ones, the same way the grey ones squoze out the red squirrels earlier. Now we're in western New York, and I see mostly black squirrels, and some grey ones. You can guess which ones I'm happier to see.

obAma: My views on squirrels are evolving.

#189 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2012, 12:38 AM:

The black squirrels in Bettendorf, Iowa are melanistic fox squirrels. The Iowa State campus squrrels in Ames had another color variation - temperature-sensitive partial albinism, like Siamese cats.

#190 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2012, 12:47 AM:

I've seen black mallards at Green Lake in Seattle -- melanistic, maybe?

#191 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2012, 01:36 AM:

I believe we have one of those temperature-sensitive squirrels here in Austin - it looks remarkably like my flame-point Siamese, in fact.

#192 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2012, 07:57 AM:

This seems to have become the animal pigment thread now, but in case anyone's still interested in the original topic, I'll note that Radio National is re-airing a documentary on the subject, including interviews with couples who have first-hand experience. After it airs, it will be available to download or listen to online here.

#193 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2012, 08:16 AM:

Jeremy, 191: Goodness, it's Eddie the Albino Squirrel! Long-lived little sucker.

#194 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2012, 11:07 AM:

TexAnne #193:

*Way* long-lived--there have been albino squirrels on the UT campus since the early 70s, if not before. The weird part is, they used to be over on the west side, and then migrated eastward; in fact, for a while they seemed to have crossed over to north of campus, marching toward my old house.

#195 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2012, 11:55 AM:

Helen @190:

It sounds like what you've got there are black ducks, Anas rubripes, which some people are now treating them as a subspecies of mallard, because the two populations hybridize regularly. However, Cornell's Laboratory of Ornithology describes them as a species, with similarities to mallards.

#196 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2012, 08:01 PM:

"Extreme sporting of the little black duck!"
— Daffy Duck, talking about himself

#197 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2012, 09:52 PM:

I have a friend whose family is extensively LDS*—I don't know if it's RLDS, but it's one of those with extensive in-breeding. She has two female cousins of some descent who have a rare genetic condition that keeps producing bone spurs—and in them, it's so reinforced that even though "marrying out" usually diminishes the effects, the genetic counselors have looked at their charts in horror and asked them to adopt if they want kids. The elder of the two has become a genetic counselor herself.

I was in the Honors Program at my college, and there were about twenty students per class. The class ahead of mine warned us extensively about how bad an idea "Honors incest" was. Naturally, there have since been four cases from each class where someone married someone else from Honors—three in between those classes. I'm one of them.

I don't think any subsequent classes have bothered with that warning.

*Her branch broke away a generation or so back, and every so often she mentions how grateful she is to be out of that genetic trap.

#198 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2012, 10:04 PM:

One of my more-distant cousins married a woman, unrelated to him (as far as we can tell), who happened to carry a gene which he also has. It's lethal if a child gets both copies.
So marrying a non-cousin is not a sure thing genetically, either.

#199 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2012, 12:08 AM:

I just wanted to point out that Prince never suggested to put your cousin to the test.

#200 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2012, 12:38 AM:

Vicki@195: Thank you! But the ones I've seen have black heads (with some green showing, rather like starlings), not brown, so I don't think they're the ones described at the Cornell link. Oh, and the range given doesn't show the American Black Duck anywhere near the Pacific Northwest.

#201 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2012, 01:06 AM:

P J Evans #198:

Some numbers: if the fraction of chromosomes with broken versions of a particular gene is P in a particular population and both parents are members of that population, then the chance of a kid getting two broken copies is, if I've calculated correctly:

P*P if the parents are unrelated apart from being part of that population

P/32 +(3/4)*P*P if the parents are first cousins but their grandparents are otherwise unrelated apart from being part of that population.

For rare Mendelian disorders P is small, so the absolute risk to children of first cousins is small, but the relative risk is quite high. For example, if you take P=1/100, the risk is about 4 times higher for children of first cousins, but in an absolute sense is higher by only 0.03 percentage points.

As Patrick says, the risks are real but marginal. And for serious genetic diseases Dor Yeshorim has proved that counselling works.

And moral panics are very rarely useful responses even to real risks.

#202 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2012, 06:44 AM:

HelenS #160: Let me guess -- no mention whatsoever about power imbalance, or manipulation by the father.

Ayse #172: Also Anais Nin -- one of her unexpurgated-diary volumes (she's got lots of diary volumes) is in fact titled "Incest".

Vicki #176: As noted elsewhere, cars likely aren't the issue. On the other hand, NYC and some other cities have an increasing population of raptors (not to mention the more common cats), so camouflage isn't completely irrelevant.

#203 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2012, 08:23 AM:

Helen S @ #200, could they be Cayugas? Or a cross between Cayugas and mallards? (The most distinctive features of Cayugas are the green shimmer in their plumage and the fact that the babies are all-black.)

Mallards will cross with Pekin ducks and at least some other domestic breeds.

#204 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2012, 10:03 AM:

I believe the Toronto black squirrels are melanistic grey squirrels - an internet friend living in Orillia has mentioned black squirrels there, too.

Oh - there is also a neighbourhood within Toronto that has a number of white squirrels.

#205 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2012, 10:28 AM:

I understand that mallard drakes will mate with any female duck in the same (large) genus, and aren't very picky about that, either.

#206 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2012, 12:41 PM:

Somewhere I have a copy of a published report of an incident of homosexual necrophiliac rape involving mallard drakes.

#207 ::: gleomstapa ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2012, 01:04 PM:

I once lived in a dorm of about 100 people. We weren't quite so promiscuous that we actually calculated degrees of separation (as in, I kissed that person who kissed that person whom you dated), but dating in-house was part of the culture and just about every year produced one to two marriages down the line. I think about 20% of the house is dating each other right now. And even if you weren't involved in Relations there was a whole lot of casual, friendly physical contact, unless you consciously defended your personal space.

I also once lived in a place with huge shiny black squirrels. Rumor had it they'd escaped from a lab, but rumor was probably wrong.

#208 ::: April Grant ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2012, 01:31 PM:


"I'm a necrophiliac," said Tom in dead earnest.

#209 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2012, 01:53 PM:

Now dimly recalling some old Stephen Fry bit about a news story in which a man had been arrested for attempting bestiality with a duck, but had been released on the grounds that you couldn't charge people with crimes that were impossible.

Fry's comment was that he wasn't sure whether this meant that human/duck relations were physically impossible, or whether ducks were just so morally low no human could corrupt them further.

#210 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2012, 02:01 PM:

Sarah, 209: Probably the latter.

#211 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2012, 02:49 PM:

David Harmon@202 -- I suspect not, though I haven't gotten access to the entire publications.

E.E. Cummings' daughter ran into him after she was grown up and supposedly made a pass at him. And there's the notorious poem (well, I think it should be notorious) that Cummings wrote about his second wife, who had been abused by her father (a psychiatrist told Cummings that all women who had had sexual relations with their fathers became promiscuous):

annie died the other day

arire jnf gurer fhpu n ynl --
jubz, nzbat ure qbyyvrf qnq
svefg ("qba'g gryy lbhe zbgure") unq;
znxvat naavr fyvtugyl znq
ohg irel jbaqreshy va orq
-- fnvagf naq fnglef, tb lbhe jnl

lbhguf naq znvqraf: yrg hf cenl

[ROT-13'd. Trigger warning: child sexual abuse. -- AS]

#212 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2012, 02:56 AM:

You might want to add a trigger warning for that poem there, or ROT13 it or something.

In other news, I now want to punch the shade of e. e. cummings in the face.

#213 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2012, 09:02 AM:

Helen @190, unusually dark or otherwise oddly-colored Mallard-like ducks in an urban or suburban setting are likely to be domestic crosses. (On the East Coast of the US, American Black Ducks are a possibility, but not in Seattle, where they're all but certain to be "Mallard mutts".)

#214 ::: LMM ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2012, 09:56 AM:

@209: IIRC, Intimate Matters mentions a case in a Puritan colony where a young man was accused of bestiality with, along with assorted herd animals, a duck.

Despite their reputation, the Puritans were surprisingly laid-back about premarital sex (it was considered a sin, but it was frequently an excuse to get married, and men and women who had engaged in it could, following a tearful confession, become well-respected members of the community). They were not so accepting of bestiality, and the young man was executed, together with the animals he had had sex with.

#215 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2012, 10:18 AM:


I get a slightly different number. First cousins share two grandparents. From each grandparent, each cousin gets 1/4 of their genes, so I think you have to do

(1/4)(1/4)P probability of getting a double recessive from rhe shared grandma


(1/4)(1/4)P probability of getting a double recessive from the shared grandpa


(7/8) P^2 probability of getting a double recessive in the other genes. (That includes cases where one gene came from the shared grandparents, but the other didn't.).

= (P/8) + (7/8) P^2

I maybe messing this up, though.

#216 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2012, 11:48 AM:

The gray squirrels, read squirrels, and ground squirrels peacefully coexist here, and in the case of the pushed-in screen the gray and red squirrels might have been collaborating! (Both species got into the house last year. The grays worked at getting out, chewing holes in the screens. The red squirrels, however.... a glue trap wound up succeeding in ending the infestation.)

#217 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2012, 01:18 PM:

Albatross #215 I think its a little easier than that. If the allele is sufficiently rare we only need to consider the chance of having one heterozygous grandparent. We can ignore the chance that a grandparent witll be homozygous, that is have two copies of the gene (and anyway if they did and it was a deleterious recessive they'd know about it). And the chance that both grandparents at random will be heterozygoites is a small fraction of the chance that one will be, so we'll ignore that. In fact I hereby declare that to be my definition of "rare" as far as gene frequencies are concerned.

If one of a couple is heterozygous for a rare allele, i.e. they have a single copy of that gene variant, then there is a 1/2 chance that any of their chidlren will also have a single copy of it.

So if one of your grandparents is a heterozygote for a particular allele, there is a 1/4 chance that you will be.

So if a couple share a grandparent, the chance that they will both inherit the same copy of the same gene from that grandparent is 1/16, pretty obviously.

As they each have a half chance of passing the dud copy of that gene onto a child of theirs, the chance that any child will inherit two copies of the rare allele is 1/64

So the chance that a child of cousin marriage will be homozygous for any given rare recessive genetic trait is one sixty-fourth of the frequency of the allele in the general population. That's quite a high number, bearing in mind that we have thousands of genes each, and deleterious mutations aren't that rare.

Using a ferquency of 1% as an exampls. If p is the freqcency of our rare allele P, and q of all the others put together, then if p is 0.01 the frequencies of PP, PQ and QQ in the population will tend towards:

PP homozygotes p-squared = 0.0001
PQ heterozygotes 2pq = 0.0198
QQ homozygotes q squared = 0.9801

0.0198/64 is 0.000309375

So approximately 309 in a million children of cousin marriages would have the homozygous condition

The chance of both grandparents having the same rare recessive is not much more, in fact also three in ten thousand (surprise surprise!) as 0.0198 * 0.0198 = 0.00039204, dividing that by 64 we see it adds another 6 in a million (actually if the recessive is lethal its less than that because some of the second generation will be dead) so we can ignore it.

#218 ::: Pyre ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2012, 04:56 PM:

Yarrow, #159: The season finale of TV's "Finder" *SPOILER* unf gur Tlcfl tvey uvgpuuvxvat njnl gb nibvq zneelvat ure pbhfva (arvgure bs gurz jnagrq gur zneevntr, ohg gurve pyna yrnqre unq pbzznaqrq vg).

#219 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2012, 11:02 AM:

Regarding the math in @217, what I remember from my high school biology class covering relationships between cousins, is that the concern is not about the common ancestors having a specific undesirable recessive trait.

Rather, what we were told that there is a good chance, for pretty much anyone, that you're carrying some sort of undesirable recessive trait. But that it is rare enough in the general population that meeting someone unrelated in the general population who shares that gene is rarely a problem.

Relationships between cousins throws away the protection of the recessive trait being rare in the general population. If either of the common grandparents has any undesirable recessive trait, the children of first cousins are at the 1/64 risk for that trait. The grandparent might even be unique in the world with that recessive trait, a new mutation when they were conceived. The risk remains 1/64 for the offspring of first cousins.

For second cousins, the risk became 1/4096, and 1/16,777,216 for third cousins.

This was, of course, high school biology in the late 1980s, when genetic testing was not available with the sophistication it has now. The emphasis was that we're constantly learning of new recessive genes, and that there was no way to know what sort of undesirable recessive genes the common grandparents carried.

#220 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 02:54 PM:

Come to think of it, I remember being mildly surprised that cousin marriage seemed to be legal when I got my Massachusetts marriage license.

That was back in 2000, so I think we had to affirm that we were of opposite sexes, and I think we also had to be tested for syphilis.

But aside from that there was a list of not-allowed relations, which was a little odd. While first-cousin marriage is allowed, marriage to aunts and uncles is forbidden, and marriage to former parents-in-law or grandparents-in-law is forbidden.

However, that great burning English moral panic-object of the 19th century, marriage to deceased wife's sister, seems to be allowed.

(The restrictions as written in current state law still seem to be worded with the assumption that marriages are opposite-sex: on the face of it, if you're a man, you're allowed to marry your brother. But I suspect the courts would disagree, on gender-equality grounds.)

#221 ::: K ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2012, 08:11 PM:

I just wanted to remark that, as a Bulgarian, I am surprised to find out that marriage between first cousins is illegal here. I, likewise, thought it's an American and Chinese thing exclusively. Maybe a leftover from the Ceausescu/Zhivkov weirdness? I know there are even wider restrictions about it for Orthodox church marriages, but I assumed there was none of that in actual legal marriages.

#222 ::: Peter S. ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2012, 10:04 PM:

Many Arabian countries, where cousin marriage is quite common, have a much higher rate of rare genetic disorders than elsewhere, to the point where scientists have figured out they're a good place to study genetics. So cousin marriage is bad if it's common. Just guessing, but I suspect that if one percent of marriages are between relatives, there's probably no problem. If there are families where nearly half the marriages are between relatives, you get problems.

#223 ::: Anita Kuy ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2012, 01:55 PM:

This writing has inspired me to start focusing on my own blog

#224 ::: fidelio ponders possible spam probes ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2012, 02:32 PM:

These are linkless, but the comments are so generic, and the posters do not seem to be from around rhese parts, to to speak.

So I thought I'd mention the possibility, so they could be monitored. Because the gnomes need more excitement in their lives.

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