Just 200 years ago, it was standard practice to marry your cousin. Your first cousin means you had the same grandparents.
Those were the “good old days”. Back then, you could beat up handicapped people and no one stopped you, and used your left hand to wipe your butt because there was no such thing as toilet paper. Next time a person says they want to go back to the “good old days”, remember those facts. And quit listening to that person.
Scientists gave us genetics, and we began to understand why so many children were born with birth defects. It took generations of arguing to get people to agree that cousins marrying was a bad idea.
Everyone did it. Who else were you supposed to marry? You were not going to spend the rest of your life with some stranger who didn’t know about Grandma’s Christmas dinners. Who didn’t inherit the same land that your family had always worked.
You weren’t going to send your daughter off to some stranger’s town where you would never see her but twice a year. How could you? That was abandonment! 20 miles was two day’s walk, one way. Who would do your chores, feed the chickens, pick vegetables, bake bread, water the sheep? Those things had to be done daily or you starved. If you were lucky enough to own horses, they worked on the farm and were certainly not available for a week’s trip from home.
You might get news from the next town once a week, probably more like once a month. If your daughter lived that far away, who would be there with her when she went into labor? Were you going to trust virtual strangers to do that for the young woman you had raised?
Now we think it’s weird and disgusting to marry a relative. But there were reasons people thought marrying a cousin was good practice.
Marriage isn’t easy anymore. You don’t just set up house together the way it’s always been done. You don’t settle disagreements the way your grandparents did. You don’t discipline children the way you were both raised. You don’t automatically eat the same foods, prepared the same way.
Now we marry people from different continents, whose ancestors spoke different languages and ate different food. This is an excellent genetic practice. We humans are stronger, bigger, and healthier than ever, especially in the Americas.
We raise children that are much more likely to live into adulthood. We are not distracted with endless grief from half a dozen stillbirths and victims of childhood epidemic.
And we are mentally healthier than ever. Abuse used to be normal; now we know better, because it’s not just kept a family secret anymore. Mental illness used to be locked away, now we get treatment and learn to live better together.
Now, if a spouse insults you, beats you, treats you like you’re crazy, expects you to care for them as tho they were a child, we can leave. Your cousin-husband could beat you if you put butter on his bread after putting it on the table, instead of at the stove like his mother did. We are not covering up our family’s reputation anymore. We let abusive relationships end.
Some marriages between good people end, too. But usually they end well, with mature people understanding that the agreement to marry just didn’t work for both partners.
Now we have new skills on marriage, methods and council that can bring near-strangers together to understand each other well. Give these new traditions time, and we will see marriage revive and succeed as never before.