August 20, 2013

"But as it stands only 3 people know you're the biological father of the boy, and while it may take all your will power, I think it should remain that way."

Says Prudie, noting that it's only a cousin marriage in the offing and not mentioning the thrilling line in the wedding ceremony — often used for drama in fiction — "Speak now or forever hold your peace." That line is there because of problems like the one raised by the advice seeker.  In fictional stories, it tends to be used to create tension over problems like — spoiler alert! — this:


Matt Sablan said...

This seems like a pretty horrendous thing to do to both the young people involved. I mean, yeah, if they dodge the unlikely bullet, all will be well. But, just imagine finding out that your cousins, your kid is going to have to suffer the consequences of it, and that your parents knew and did nothing.

You play the long odds in roulette, not with other people's lives.

DrMaturin said...

Perversions galore
Grace the pages of Prudie.
Dear Abby she ain't.

DrMaturin said...

First there was twincest.
Then the married half-siblings.
Now kissing cousins?

Renee said...

What about the Groom's rights?

Never mind....

Anonymous said...

Keep quiet. As Prudie suggested, what if they now know they are cousins and still attracted to one another any go through with the marriage anyway? Is he going to report them to the incest police? Is it even illegal to marry ones cousin in all states?

His concerns should rest in peace and he should not speak but forever hold his tongue.

SJ said...

I thought that speak now or forever hold your peace is a relic of time when marriages weren't tracked/licensed by government officials.

And when most marriages involved couples known to the community present at the service. Someone would remember if a participant in the wedding could not marry legitimately.

Thus, if someone knew that a person had been previously married, and the marriage had not ended in annulment/divorce, they had an opportunity to speak up.

n.n said...

Just do what feels good. That requires real willpower, right?

It is dissociation of risk which causes corruption. It is dreams of material, physical, and ego instant (or immediate) gratification which motivates its progress.

mccullough said...

The past is never dead. It's not even past.

LuAnn Zieman said...

My grandmother and grandfather were first cousins. They had 4 children: 1 died of tuberculosis in her 20s; my mom died of cancer in her mid-60s; one aunt died of cancer in her mid-40s; one aunt died of Parkinson's in her 80s; one aunt died of Parkinson's in her late 70s; the lone uncle is alive and over 90. Does this prove something? I see the same patterns in families in which both parents were completely unrelated.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Inga, firs cousin marriage law in the US appears to be a real mishmash.

Ought they to be told? I'm not sure. The issue has been raised before, mostly in the context of sperm donation -- what if two people who are actually (unknown to themselves) half-siblings fall in love?

A major subplot of Orson Scott Card's Speaker For the Dead deals with a situation like that. A woman marries, not the man she's in love with (for complicated reasons), but another man who is actually sterile due to an exceptionally nasty disease. She bears six children, all of course the children of her lover, who subsequently married and had four legitimate children by his own wife. By the time this secret has been made public, one of the legitimate daughters and one of the illegitimate sons have fallen in love.

Anonymous said...

This is why you'll need a permanent class of moralists and 'ethicists' to keep everyone on the level.

Rich Rostrom said...

One question: is the writer a full or half sibling of his niece's mother? If half, that reduces the risk by half - the couple would have only one grandparent in common, instead of two.

The legal rule is the same for all first cousins, although the risk is less for "half cousins", and greater for "double cousins", where the grandparents are two sets of siblings. (There were several cases of this among European royalty.)

It's still the same if the sibling grandparents are identical twins, which poses the same genetic risk as sibling incest.

Jane the Actuary said...

Beyond just the cousin-marriage issue (and isn't it up to the bride & groom to decide whether it's objectionable or not?), there's the further issue: doesn't the boy have the right to know his genetic origins? Since when is the mother's desire not to have her marital harmony disturbed more important than this?

ken in tx said...

Cousin marriage is not all that dangerous. Jews have been doing it for thousands of years. They have Ta-Sachs disease, but they also have super IQs. As Prude says, it is very common in much of the world.

Stock and horse breeders have been doing it all along. It's what the term 'thoroughbred' means.

Seeing Red said...

No one knew my husband's family had a genetic problem until my SIL tried having kids and had difficulty, while her brother & sister had no problems. My husband also had it.

If they have a problem and have genetic testing done........

IMHO there will be more hell to pay.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...


Since when is the mother's desire not to have her marital harmony disturbed more important than this?

I got the impression from the piece that the husband in the case knew the boy wasn't his child; it was only the boy himself who'd been systematically lied to. So it's not "marital harmony" at stake, exactly.

Bryan C said...

Cousins marry and reproduce all the time without any ill effects. The only real danger is in cumulative inbreeding, like we once saw with royal bloodlines or isolated populations.

Take a close look at your family tree. If one generation of intermarriage did that much harm then a lot of us would be counting on six fingers today.

Kate Danaher said...

"Speak now or forever hold your peace" is, I surmise, a remnant of "reading the banns" in the UK. The young couple's engagement was announced something like 3 Sundays in a row and anyone in the community could speak against the match.

jimbino said...

The incest prohibition is a silly relic: first of all, many couples can't or won't breed; second, Cain and Abel bred with their sisters (or mother?); third, Einstein married his cousin,a whole series of Romans married their sisters, and, for a period, great Austrian music was sustained by inbreeding.

jimbino said...

The incest prohibition is a silly relic: first of all, many couples can't or won't breed; second, Cain and Abel bred with their sisters (or mother?); third, Einstein married his cousin,a whole series of Romans married their sisters, and, for a period, great Austrian music was sustained by inbreeding.

Martin said...

The sun rose on the nothing new: Home

Left Bank of the Charles said...

The "uncle" is both the furthest and the closest relation here.

I think that Prudie is only answering with reference to his relationship with his biological son whose life he has agreed to stay out of.

She hasn't really considered his family obligation to his sister and her daughter. In fact that was his concern, "I don't want my niece to live in incest because of my past mistake, Please help."

I don't see how he can tell his niece without telling his sister first, although maybe that depends on how old the niece is. Yes, his sister and niece may never see or speak to him again. But if he doesn't tell now, what does he do if there are children born with birth defects?

The niece can break the engagement without telling her fiance the real reason, if she really loves him and doesn't want to be the one who shatters his image of his parents.

Now, of course, it's entirely possible that the uncle is not really the father. So the most he has to tell his sister and niece is that there is a strong possibility that he is the father and that the niece may want to consider asking her fiance to get genetically tested.

That also means that the niece can go to her fiance initially with a story that is true without completely disclosing the situation like, "I've just learned something about my family history that might affect our ability to have children, so we need to see a doctor and get some tests."

That also gives her some time to think this over, and the wedding can be delayed if necessary for this or some other pretext.

If the couple talk it over with a doctor and decide to go ahead, the uncle has done his duty and need say no more. They can have their big wedding and, if need be, quietly have a second official wedding in another state on their honeymoon. Indeed, if need be, they can move to another state.

And what does the groom have to tell his parents? Nothing, if he wants to leave them with their image of a happy parental unit.

Alex said...

Perversions galore
Grace the pages of Prudie.
Dear Abby she ain't.

Ah the judgmental hordes!

n.n said...


You're right. It is a product of incestophobia. Brothers and sisters, as well as fathers and daughters, should be able to have a loving, sexual relationship. If the sister or daughter get pregnant, then they can abort the developing human life without cause or due process, thereby negating any concern for a dysfunctional genetic convergence. And if they still desire heirs or offspring, they always have the option of adoption or artificial insemination from an available donor, respectively.

The important question is: why would they or anyone want to have children? They can have sexual relations without consequence (e.g. reproduction). They can look forward to public assistance or entitlements when they are disabled or old. In fact, there are extensive incentives offered in order to avoid breeding, and only a series of punishments to be suffered otherwise. Who would voluntarily reject the former and accept the latter?

That said, should there be any boundaries? What are the revised criteria to define fitness and value to viability and society, respectively?

Welcome to the new normal. Let the grand experiment proceed.

n.n said...

I have a pressing question, which begs to be answered. What motivates people who claim to act with a purely "objective" perspective (i.e. without faith and untainted by ego)? Are they afraid of death, the perception of pain, or is it out of spite?