Full text: Problems in eugenics

C. B. Davenport. Practical Eugenics.I53 
A second consideration is whether any law against the marriage of 
cousins is enforceable. It may be argued from analogy that, just as laws 
against the marriage of sibs are pretty generally enforced, so may be that 
against cousins. But it is to be remembered that it is not the law, but 
early home instruction and the barriers erected at their home against sexual 
relations between children of a family that keeps down incest. The ever 
present danger of incest ensures adequate means to combat it, and these, 
together with a not uncommon repulsion between sibs, due to familiarity, 
are much more powerful than any law. But cousins usually live apart, the 
contempt of familiaritv is not bred, and there is little precaution taken 
against the growth of friendliness and stronger attachments. Owing to 
these differences one cannot argue that a legal prohibition to cousin marriage 
as strong as that between sibs would result in cousin marriage becoming as 
rare as incest. Certainly, with the lack of social control that characterizes 
numerous and extensive areas of the United States, there would be no 
enforcement of a law prohibiting cousin marriage; or at least such a law 
would not prevent cousin matings. There are island communities in the 
United States where practically all marriages for two generations, at 
least, have been cousin marriages, and, probably in four-fifths of the cases, 
marriages of first cousins. There are other communities—largely occupying 
rural valleys—where probably not half of the more or less permanent 
matings are solemnized or legalized marriages, and such marriages as there 
are are chiefly between cousins. In fact, in any fairly stable, semi-rural 
community, where all matings tend soon to become consanguineous in some 
degree, it is going to be hard to enforce so delicate a distinction as that 
between the marriage of first cousins and of first cousins once removed. 
Love laughs at locksmiths and no less love laughs at legal limitations. 
I have suggested above that laws might be enacted forbidding cousin 
marriages under certain conditions. If they could not be enforced, of what 
use would they be? Their value would be primarily educational, and this 
value would be enhanced by a penalty for every enfringement of the law, 
such as more or less prolonged deprivation of some of the rights of citizen­ 
ship. In time the reasonableness of the legislation would make a strong 
appeal. The second legal limitation of a biological sort is that concerning the 
physical (including the mental) condition of those who contemplate marriage. 
Many States provide that if either party is an idiot or insane, the marriage 
is void, on the legal ground that such persons are incapable of making a 
valid contract. In not a few States paupers are permitted to marry only 
under restrictions, the limitation having an economic basis, namely that a 
male pauper cannot support a wife. In few, if any, of the States of the 
Union have the legislators or the people grasped the idea of restricting the 
marriage of the mentally or physically defective in order to diminish the

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