A cousin couple is a pair of cousins who are involved in a romantic or sexual relationship. In some jurisdictions and cultures, cousins are prohibited from marrying each other because that is considered incestuous. In other settings, such marriages may be accepted or encouraged.
In earlier times, it was relatively common for cousins to marry each other. Since people tended not to move far from their place of birth, the closest eligible spouse was often a cousin. Marrying a cousin was also a way of keeping land and property in the family (endogamy). In the Middle East and parts of the Mediterranean Basin, even among city folk, there is a saying that "the girl is for her cousin." Traditionally, such arranged marriages are facilitated by the extended family.
Cousin couples existed in the Old Testament. Two of the most famous are prominent in Genesis. Isaac was married to Rebekah, his first cousin once removed (Genesis 24:12-14). Rachel and Leah were both cousins of Jacob (Genesis 28-29). The Bible does not define cousin marriages as right or wrong, although it does firmly prohibit sex and marriage between other closer relatives, incest (Leviticus 18:6-18).
The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia refers to a theory by the Anglican bishop of Bath and Wells speculating that Mary and Joseph, the mother and step-father of Jesus, were first cousins.
A large part of the love stories included in the Arabian Nights depict love between first cousins.
The percentage of consanguinity between any two individuals decreases fourfold as the most recent common ancestor recedes one generation. For example, first cousins have four times the consanguinity of second cousins. Fourth cousins and beyond share no more consanguinity than any two individuals taken at random, even if there is a documented most recent common ancestor.
In April 2002, the Journal of Genetic Counseling released a report authored by a team of scientists led by Robin L. Bennett, a genetic counselor at the University of Washington and the president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors, which showed that the potential risk of birth defects in a child born of first cousins was slightly higher than the risk associated with a non-cousin couple. The report estimated the increased risk for first cousins at 1.7 - 2.8 % over the base risk of about 3%, or about the same as that of any woman over age 40, or of a still younger man (see paternal age). Put differently, first-cousin marriages entail roughly the same increased risk of birth defects as a woman faces when she gives birth at age 41 (roughly 6%) rather than at 30 (roughly 3%). Critics argue that banning first-cousin marriages would make as much sense as trying to ban childbearing by older women. These numbers were reported only for first instances of cousin mating; repeated generations of cousin coupling are thought to increase the risk substantially.
A BBC report found that Pakistanis in Britain, 55% of whom marry a first cousin, are 13 times more likely than the general population to produce children with genetic disorders, and that one in ten children of cousin marriages either die in infancy or develop a serious disability. Thus Pakistani-Britons, who account for some 3% of all births in the UK, produce "just under a third" of all British children with genetic illnesses.
A second-cousin mating entails an additional risk of birth defects that many authorities assess at about 1 in 100 - the same risk as that of a woman producing offspring at age 35 or, again, that of an even younger man.
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