For the past two days, the most-read article on Slate has been this “Dear Prudie” column about a man whose unacknowledged son is unwittingly marrying his cousin. The dispute presented to Emily Yoffe (Prudie) is whether to alert the couple that they are cousins. Yoffe’s response is a strong recommendation to keep quiet:
As it stands only three 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. Cousin marriage is common in much of the world and I think the remaining laws against it in this country should be repealed. Yes, there is an elevated risk of passing on genetic disorders, but it absolute terms it is very small. Two young people are in love and planning to make a life together. I think you should let that be.
Maybe that’s the right thing to do, I don’t know. But what I do know is that there are some legal complications here, and the right answer may well turn on what state all of this is taking place in — which Yoffe does not tell us, if she knows.
1: The marriage might be void. Yoffe briefly adverts to “the remaining laws against” marrying one’s cousin, but doesn’t really seem to comprehend their relevance. In most states that have laws against cousin marriages, that means that the marriage is simply void.
And while I haven’t found a ton of cases about this, it doesn’t appear to matter that the couple didn’t know they were cousins when they got married. Nothing in the consanguinity statutes turns on knowledge, and the few cases that deal with this confirm that ignorance of consanguinity doesn’t make a marriage valid. (The Nevada law discussed in this California case is [...]