Historical and Philosophical Perspectives

Historical and Philosophical Perspectives The Historical and Philosophical Perspectives series provides professional historians and philosophers of science with a forum to reflect on topical issues in contemporary biology.

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“It's Ok, We're Not Cousins by Blood”: The Cousin Marriage Controversy in Historical Perspective

  • Diane B Paul,
  • Hamish G Spencer mail

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  • Published: December 23, 2008
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0060320

Reader Comments (2)

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Incorrect to say cousin-marriage stigmatised in west

Posted by plosbiology on 07 May 2009 at 22:28 GMT

Author: John Leonard
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Submitted Date: December 23, 2008
Published Date: December 30, 2008
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

This is an interesting piece, but I think it is incorrect to say that cousin-marriage is stigmatised in the West. I think its stigmatisation is primarily, in western culture, a US phenomenon. (I am, of course, aware that in other cultures the rules for cousin marriage vary widely. Indeed the decade-long revolt on the Pacific island of Bougainville may well have had its origin, inter alia, in tensions between local marriage customs concerning parallel and cross cousins, and differing, and more lax, standards amongst immigrant Papuan mine-workers).

I am a UK citizen by birth, now living in Australia, aged mid 40s, and until recently was completely unaware of concerns about cousin marriage, despite having read widely in sociology and history and being educated to doctoral level in the humanities: I have not come across in the UK, Australia or in any European cultural discourse any substantial concern about cousin-marriage. Where people in non-US English-speaking societies in remote and rural places are stigmatised for inbreeding (in the Fens, in eastern England, or Tasmania, or New Zealand, from an Australia perspective), it is not cousin-marriage they are accused of, but brother-sister incest! The New Zealand advert cited in this piece I would regard as an US-influenced meme.

Indeed I was completely unaware of the US state bans on cousin marriage until I watched episodes of the sit-com Arrested Development, which has this theme as a running joke, and I did a little research on the Web. This also elucidated a few jokes from The Simpsons from the 1990s which I hadn’t appreciated until recently.

No competing interests declared.