This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia
When I was a teenager I had a crush on my cousin. She was a model and a distant relative, so we didn’t see each other often. I noticed my feelings for her during the holidays. Our families always came together to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, but that year I noticed how much she’d changed over the past 12 months. She was no longer an annoying little girl who whined every time she wanted something. After the holidays, I started finding excuses to visit her house. I knew what I was doing was wrong. No one had told me that cousins weren’t suitable objects of romance, but still instinctively felt dirty.
For years I kept all this to myself, until a tweet about the surge in cousin marriages brought the topic into public discourse. Interestingly, Google Trends in Indonesia showed that searches for cousin marriages, spiked every holiday season for the last five years. It seems that all across Indonesia, when families come together, people just like me years ago, have started awkwardly noticing their cousins across the table.
So, what does the Quran say about cousin marriage? Islam doesn’t view cousin as mahram or unmarriageable kin. It does draw the line with marrying your uncles or aunts, though.
Indonesian law makes a similar definition. Incest is defined along vertical and horizontal family lines: basically, you’re not supposed to marry your uncle, aunt, parent of your uncle and aunt, sibling of your wife, your wife’s aunt or nephew (in cases of second marriage), and of course your siblings. But cousins legally make the cut.
If someone does cross one of these lines, the state can have the marriage nullified.
But marriage is only one part of our discomfort with cousins getting together. The real concern comes from what it means if they choose to have children. Most people assume that a child between two cousins will face genetic issues due to inbreeding. Teguh Haryo Sasongko, a molecular genetics expert, wrote that marriages between cousins are not harmful, as long as the couple’s DNA is not compromised.
Apparently, defective DNA passed down by parents don’t necessarily make their children unhealthy. All it means is that the child carries the defective gene. If they then go on to have children with a person with healthy DNA, everything will likely be fine. When two people come from the same bloodline of someone who is carrying a defective gene however, that's when it becomes more likely that the children will have defective DNA and chances of deformations are high.
Take Charles Darwin for example. The originator of the theory of evolution married his own cousin, Emma Wedgewood, and had to deal with the painful consequences. Out of his 10 kids, three died before the age of 10 due to tuberculosis and dengue fever. One passed away at the age of 23 due to an unknown disease, and three out of the remaining six were unable to produce offspring. Researchers refer to Darwin’s case as early evidence of risk that comes with marrying your cousins.
The point is, crushing on a cousin you haven’t seen in a while is nothing new. However, if you are serious about marrying your cousin (and your cousin is keen to marry you too), then it’s better to go through a few medical steps to ensure everything is going to be alright.
Teguh encourages everyone to go through an examination to confirm if anyone in your extended family carries a defective DNA or hereditary illness. If someone does, then it’s best to have the same test performed on yourself before finding out if you and your partner are carriers. However, the test can cost you anywhere from $560 to a whopping $3,000. Yikes.
If you’re short on money to confirm your eligibility to marry your cousin, then you should follow the example of Albert Einstein. The popular physicist married his own cousin Elsa Löwenthal but decided to play it safe by not having a child.
Bottom line: please make sure you take extra steps before tying the knot with your cousin. Don’t be like this couple in England who got married only to realize that they were actually twins.