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Saturday, January 31, 2015

King Leonidas and Queen Gorgo of Sparta

In Sparta, one's forbidden lineage was through one's mother. Half-siblings who only shared a father were allowed to marry. Surprisingly, despite the fame of King Leonidas through 300, most people don't realize that Gorgo was the daughter of Leonidas' half-brother, the previous king. Indeed, Leonidas was himself the result of an uncle-niece marriage.

Spartan bust of King Leonidas

Gorgo was known for her independence and wisdom even in her youth, when she advised her father not to aid a rebellion of Anatolian Greeks against the Persian Empire. Considering how incredibly sexist the northern Greeks in Athens, Corinth, etc. were, the story about her circulated because it shocked them.
[...] [A]t about the age of [eighteen or nineteen] years old, she advised her father Cleomenes not to trust [...] a foreign diplomat trying to induce Cleomenes to support an Ionian revolt against Persians. "Father, you had better have this man go away, or the stranger will corrupt you." Cleomenes followed her advice. 
Spartan women were notorious for their independence and intelligence, and given that Gorgo traveled with Leonidas frequently, the rest of Greece had plenty of opportunity to see that in action.
Gorgo was the kind of woman abhorred in the rest of the Greek world – a woman with her own opinion and the audacity to voice it in public. [...] [H]er most famous quote was in answer to an Athenian woman who wanted to know "why only Spartan women rule their men."  Gorgo replied: "Because only Spartan women make men.".
Spartan bust of Queen Gorgo
The thought of Gorgo in Athens is rather like that of the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's court. She must have been a sensation – and one imagines Leonidas, with his dry sense of humor, enjoying every minute of it! For example, note that the Athenian woman asked why only Spartan women "ruled" their men, implying that Gorgo had been seen giving Leonidas advice – and he had been seen to accept it, just as Cleomenes had done before him.
Regardless of his famous death in battle at Thermopylae, during his life Leonidas was better known as a statesman. He spent his entire reign rallying support from all the Greek cities to form a military union against Persia. He also demonstrated a very Spartan distaste for self-aggrandizement and the hunger for personal power.
When the Persian emperor Xerxes offered to make him king of all Greece, he replied: "If you understood what was honorable in life, you would avoid lusting after what belongs to others. For me it is better to die for Greece than be monarch of my nation."
Also, Leonidas wasn't brave to the point of suicide. He didn't stand and fight at Thermopylae against impossible odds out of some blind sense of heroism. He did it because he believed the gods demanded he give his life in exchange for Sparta's safety. So said the Delphic oracle.
But Leonidas had a double burden. On the one hand he was elected by the allies to organize and command an effective defense against the Persians, and on the other hand he had been warned by the Oracle of Delphi [...] that:
Listen, O Spartans of the open plains:
Either Xerxes will sack your gracious town
And place your women and children in chains,
Or you will mourn a king of great renown.
There is one quote, however, that truly demonstrates what kind of person he was, and what kind of relationship he and Gorgo had.
When Leonidas marched out to die at Thermopylae, Gorgo asked him for instructions. His answer was a final compliment to her. He said: "Marry a good man and have good children." Not sons, children.  Leonidas wanted Gorgo not to mourn him but to be happy, and he valued daughters as much as sons – probably because he had learned from Gorgo the importance of clever and loyal women.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Marriage, the Church, the State, and the Family

Here are some general responses from me to some of the arguments offered among the 65 responses to the post:
1) Don’t jump to conclusions. I have here advocated for legal, government-recognized civil unions with “marriage” being given back by the state to churches, synagogues and other religious and non-profit organizations to define for themselves. People who wish to call their civil unions (which would, in my plan, extend to any two consenting adults the same legal rights marriage currently entails) “marriage” certainly could. Nobody could stop them. However, churches (for example) and individuals would decide for themselves what they recognize as true marriage without any ability to hinder the full rights of civil unions. Gay people (for example) who want more than that could easily find churches, synagogues, etc., to marry them, but that would add nothing to their civil union in the eyes of the government. At the same time, churches, synagogues, etc. would have full rights to marry people without civil unions if they wish. Whether they did or not (in my plan) would be up to them. This is basically an extension of separation of church and state. [...]
3) Many of the allegedly purely rational reasons given here for maintaining legal hindrances to plural marriage and incest (as I defined and qualified them) did not live up to my standards of “purely rational reasons.” They appealed to such things as “yuk factors” and social convention and legal complications. Only the last path of reasoning has some credibility for distinguishing between rational reasons for legalizing gay marriage and legalizing polygamy and incest (as I described and qualified them). However, what people who offered that line of reasoning failed to notice is that many laws have evolved to accommodate personal freedoms and liberties and that will continue. The same reasoning was used by opponents of relaxed divorce laws–that the resulting avalanche of divorces would over burden family course, require massive changes in existing laws, create problems for families, etc., etc. None of those arguments stopped states from adjusting their marriage and divorce laws to permit relatively easy and relatively cheap, quick divorces. The result has been a huge problem for children and for government entities saddles with attempts to get parents to support their children after divorce. But “personal freedom” trumped all those challenges. Advocates of legal plural marriage could make the same argument based on that precedent–that personal freedom trumps the challenges granting them would offer to lawmakers and enforcers. [...]
4) I am personally opposed to plural marriage and incest–for non-natural, non-secular reasons. However, in fact, I don’t believe any reasoning supporting social policy and law is ever totally tradition-free or neutral. I agree with moderate postmodern philosophers who argue that all reasoning is tradition-based. Currently, we are in a conflict in America between two (and more) traditions–the broad Judeo-Christian tradition shared by most churches and synagogues and the purely secular, naturalistic tradition supported by many people who have cut themselves totally free from the Judeo-Christian tradition and opted for maximal personal liberty as the highest value. In between those two traditions is one that might be called “communitarian,” but I think it is unstable and will eventually have to appeal to supra-rational beliefs [...].
5) I am also opposed to gay marriage; I believe marriage is meant by God to be between a man and a woman and permanent (with some exceptions). [...] However, I also believe many other things based on the New Testament and do not believe all of them should be enforced by law. On the other hand, I fear where family life is headed in Europe and America. Our emphasis on personal, individual freedom and liberty without tradition’s balancing emphasis on community and responsibility to others may lead eventually to the abolition of family altogether. (My daughter’s middle school “Family Studies” teacher defined “family” as “Any group of people who care for each other.” Indeed. [...] Eventually “family” becomes compatible with anything and everything and becomes meaningless [...]).
I can understand where he's coming from, and I respect that he makes a clear distinction between secular and religious spheres vis-a-vis human relationships. I actually agree with his vision for the future of legal marriage - I'm a big proponent of separation of Church and State. That said, I clearly think his personal feelings at the end are hyperbolic. If he accedes to the modern, citizen logic that children of sexually and physically abusive families have a right to emancipate themselves, and that those who genuinely care for them have more right to be their guardians, then he already accepts that family should be based on virtue, not on blood.

Do you know who put family above law? The early ancient Greeks, where the head of a household could do anything he pleased with his women and children, where murders inside the family were handled internally, and where crimes upon another family were resolved through vengeance and not through law. Athena's compromise with the Furies at the end of The Oresteia is about the ascendance of law over vengeance. The Greek state was created to subdue that social chaos.

And what about all of Jesus' calls to reject one's family for the brotherhood of Christians? The transition toward modernity has always been about universalizing, about transcending flesh for the sake of virtue. It only makes sense that family should be based on familial behavior, and not only on blood. One cannot read the new testament and see any other kind of message. Jesus was not trying to build a cul-de-sac of single family homes with white picket fences and 2.5 kids, he was trying to build a radically new, egalitarian society. Do you know the original version of "blood is thicker than water?" It was actually "the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of birth"; blood brothers are closer than real brothers.

Families have been defined in many different ways by many different cultures. His daughter's class's definition of family makes sense when one is trying to be general enough to include step-family, adoption, foster care, group marriages, and all these other things that many cultures even in ancient times would have considered family households. The 1950s idea of family is simplistic, and reflects only a tiny moment in history. I think he should give communitarianism a bit more credit.

"Why Not Polygamy? A Question to Advocates of Gay Marriage"

A blogger about Christian theology questions people's opposition to secular full marriage equality:
I’m a person who, for better or worse, always looks at social trends (and trends in churches) and asks “Where does the logic of this lead?” I believe the logic driving the “gay marriage” movement leads inevitably to next steps in “liberation” from traditional marriage arrangements.
Whenever I mention this, however, many defenders of gay marriage argue that there is no massive call for legal polygamy or marriage between closely related persons. Or for abolition of government-regulated marriage. Be that as it may, my mind cannot help but wonder. If we could get in a time machine and go back to America (to leave aside for the moment other Western societies) fifty year ago (and I’m old enough to remember that time) we would find that almost nobody envisioned a coming day when persons of the same sex would be permitted to marry. A few lonely voices called for that occasionally but there was no “massive call” for legal gay marriage. It was only a dream of a few people who stayed mostly quiet about it except among themselves.
Now we see cable television programs about polygamous “marriages.” (I put “marriage” in scare quotes only to indicate these are not yet legally recognized in any state and are, so far as I can tell, still actually illegal such that the “husband” could be subject to prosecution as could the minister or other officiating person who performed the “weddings.”) These mostly exist among so-called “fundamentalist Mormons,” but that’s irrelevant to my point.
My question is not about a real or imaginary “massive call” for legalized polygamy; that may or may not happen in the future. (I suspect it will happen, but I can’t prove it.) My question is only about logic. (So please stick to that if you choose to respond.) And it is only to those who advocate legally-recognized gay marriage: What purely rational or [non-]religious-based reasons can be given for continuing to criminalize “plural marriage” or to deny marriage licenses to groups?
Now, just to stave off an avalanche or even a trickle of comments based on misunderstanding. I am not here discussing the ethics of gay marriage, so do not respond as if I were. I am only asking advocates of gay marriage how they would argue against, if at all, legal plural marriage. And by “plural marriage” here I am only talking about arrangements where all the parties to it are knowledgeable, free adults and where there is no abuse or coercion.
So, to be very specific, let me give a hypothetical example: A woman wants to be legally married to two men. [...] What ethical or legal arguments would you, who advocate and support gay marriage, give for continuing to prohibit plural marriage?
Then, let’s take it a step further. Image a biological brother and sister who wish to be legally married. One or both of them will undergo voluntary sterilization to avoid the possibility of having children (who might have serious birth defects as a result). They can prove to the government that they cannot have biological children, but they plan to adopt. To those who advocate and defend gay marriage, which is the same as saying redefine marriage from its traditional definition, what rational or purely [non-]religious arguments can you give for prohibiting such a marriage? If such a couple sues for a marriage license, what reasoning should a judge use (if at all) to deny their claim?

The ugly history of eugenics: the state control of reproduction

At the collective level, sexuality carries particular symbolic importance, since it is through reproductive sexuality that the nation is biologically reproduced, which turns it into a concern of the state. [...] States have traditionally been preoccupied with the size and quality of their populations, concerns that have often reflected anxieties about the nation and its identity. Worries about decline in size or quality of the national population, [...] or about whether immigrants are having more children than 'native' citizens have been recurrent items on national policy agendas. State concern with reproductive sexuality was particularly central to Western experiments with eugenics.
[...] The 'science' of eugenics thus emerged during the second half of the 19th century, with the aim of assisting nation states in implementing social policies which would improve the quality of the national 'breed'. In opposition to the laissez-faire attitude of political liberalism, eugenicists advocated active social engineering.
[...] Eugenicists called for scientifically founded state intervention to prevent further degeneration of the diseased national body. The emerging welfare state added an additional motive to that of preventing degeneracy: limiting public expenditure.
[...] Eugenics offered the hope of a scientifically grounded elimination of all sorts of social ills and disorderly conduct, through policies that would carefully regulate the reproductive sexuality of the population. Other eugenic policies included education programmes, non-voluntary incarceration in psychiatric clinics, removal of children from parental homes, prohibition to marry, as well as measures that specifically targeted vagrants, 'gypsies', and, more generally, socially deviant groups such as unmarried mothers, 'sexual deviants', or people with physical or mental impairments. In Great Britain, eugenic preoccupations were clearly intertwined with the demands of the colonial empire, and much anxiety focused on the supposedly degenerative characteristics of the colonized, racial 'others' and the perils of interracial reproduction. However, despite widespread support for eugenics among leading intellectuals, the strong influence of liberalism in the UK, in particular the distrust of state intervention in private life, put a brake upon the translation of eugenic ideas into actual policy practice, at least at a national level.
[...] In [Auguste Forel's] view, it was through selective, scientifically informed procreation that the boundaries around the national order were to be established and maintained. It was crucial, he argued, to teach young people about the consequences of having sexual relations with 'inferior' partners [...].
[...] In 1912, Switzerland prohibited marriage for the 'mentally deficient' and the 'legally irresponsible'. [...] Worldwide, the first eugenic sterilization law was introduced in Indiana in 1907, and by the 1930s almost two-thirds of US states had similar legislation targeting, in particular, institutionalized individuals such as criminals and those labelled 'mentally ill'.
[...] In the case of Switzerland, collective anxieties centered on the various social categories that were seen to constitute hereditary 'threats' to the Swiss nation: criminals, prostitutes, alcoholics, 'immoral' citizens (in particular unmarried mothers), the mentally ill, the physically disabled, haemophiliacs, people with tuberculosis, drug addicts, Jews, 'gypsies', and vagrants. [...] The 'mentally ill' were a particularly loose category which could include vagrants, people of 'weak morals', delinquents, and unmarried mothers [...]. Boundaries between medical diagnosis and moral values were, at best, fluid in eugenic discourse, and they completely dissolved in concepts such as 'moral feeble-mindedness'. [...] Forel perceived this task to be all the more urgent as he considered these sexualized 'others' and sexual 'perverts' - as well as women in general - as 'more sexual', and thus representing a particular reproductive threat.
[...] Eugenic technologies such as sterilization without consent and marriage interdiction were combined with other measures such as eugenic education, sex education, and marriage advice. [...] The widescale social and political experiments with eugenics illustrate the concern of the state with the reproductive sexuality of its citizens [...] Politics around eugenics and [HIV] illustrates the complex intersections of sexuality with hierarchies around gender and 'race', and its connections to the notions of individual and collective 'purity'.
- Véronique Mottier, Sexuality: A Very Short Introduction

Think about this the next time someone says consanguinamory should be illegal because we need to ensure they don't have "unhealthy" children (which is only pseudo-scientific anyway), or when they say that having all of these "inbred" children will be a drain on welfare, or when they say that people need to marry "better" partners. Controlling reproduction is one of the ultimate ways the majority can use the state to forcibly shape the next generation at the expense of minorities.

Queen Helena and King Monobaz I of Adiabene

Helena, Queen of Adiabene, came from a Zoroastrian family, and was married to her brother King Monobaz I, a vassal of the Parthian Empire of Iran. (Adiabene is now Iraqi Kurdistan.) As an adult she converted to Judaism, while remaining married to her brother. She and her brother are mentioned in the Talmud for their generosity towards Judea.
[...] [D]uring a famine at Jerusalem she sent to Alexandria for [grain] and to Cyprus for dried figs for distribution among the sufferers from the famine. In the Talmud, however (Bava Batra 11a), this is laid to the credit of Monobaz [...]. The Talmud speaks also of important presents which the queen gave to the Temple at Jerusalem.
She bore her brother two sons, and later in life moved to Jerusalem, where she built a small palace by the Temple, and was buried in a massive, sophisticated personal tomb.
Josephus tells us that Helena in her lifetime built three pyramids (which no longer exist) over the intended tomb. Pausanias [...] mentions a unique mechanism that opened the tomb automatically at certain times and sealed it at others:
They have contrived to make the door of the tomb, which is stone like all the rest of it, so that it opens only on a certain day of the year at a particular season: at that moment the machinery opens the door on its own, holds it open for a little while, and then closes it up again.  At the time you can get in like that, but if you tried to open it at any other time it would never open -- you would have to break it down first.
Tomb complex of Queen Helena

Her palace was destroyed when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in vengeance for the Jewish Revolt. 

Ruins of Queen Helena's Jerusalem palace
Helena's youngest son, Izates, was actually the first in the family to convert to Judaism after his mother, though neither knew it. (I'm sure they were both surprised, when he came home to be king, that the other was also now Jewish.) A very interesting fact comes out of Izates' rise:
On the very day that the king died, with Izates far away, Queen Helena called an assembly of noblemen, district governors, and army commanders in the royal palace at Arbela [modern Arbil]. [...] Then, she explained that Monobazus had chosen Izates to succeed him and had thought him worthy to do so. She appealed for their support. The fact that the queen summoned the council and had the honour of speaking first -- rather than her eldest son -- bolsters the idea that brother-sister royal incest increases the power and status of a queen [as recently discussed in my post on the incestuous Ptolemaic queen Arsinoë II].
It also seems that, by the standards of the time for monarchs, they were extremely magnanimous.
[Helena's] next move was unexpected, perhaps even naive: she entrusted her eldest son, Monobazus, with the diadem and insignia of office until Izates could get to Arbela and begin his reign. Perhaps  Helena knew something that cynics didn't know: Monobazus duly surrendered his temporary powers, and Izates was crowned king in 36 CE. Inspired by his religious scruples, we are told, Izates acted with a clemency extraordinary for the age: rather than kill [his half-brothers], he sent them away as hostages to Rome and Parthia.
Drawing of a Relief of King Izates

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Some definitions


Consanguinamory (con-sang-gwin-am-or-ree): "Incest" between consenting adults, or between consenting minors close in age; "consensual incest".

Polyamory (pah-lee-am-or-ree): The maintenance of multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships simultaneously, with the full knowledge and consent of all involved; "ethical non-monogamy".

Full Marriage Equality: The legal recognition of marriages involving any number of consenting, full legal persons, of any race, religion, sex, class, genetic relation, or familial relation.

Genetic Sexual Attraction (G.S.A.): The experience of intense sexual and possibly romantic feelings for a close relative whom you have not had contact with during your childhood.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Traditional Sinhalese Marriage Laws and Customs

A fascinating account of the history of marriage on the island of Sri Lanka.
During ancient times, pre-Buddhistic Sinhalese marriage laws and customs would have been similar to those prescribed in the laws of Manu (Manava - Dharma - Sastra) written in North India sometime between the 3rd century B.C.-1st century A.C. The work, which is a compilation of the traditions of the ancient Indo-Aryan Hindus reflects a rigid patriarchal society with extended family households.
[...] With the advent of Buddhism to the island during the 3rd century B.C., we may presume that the legal position of women underwent a significant improvement. [...] There were of course a number of [...] conditions that had to be fulfilled, before a marriage could be contracted. Besides parental consent the parties to the marriage had to (1) belong to the same caste, (2) they were not to be related within the prohibited degrees of relationship and (3) they had to have the intention of forming a definite alliance.
[...] Kandyan law also prohibited marriages between close relatives. This included a man"s daughter (duva), sister (sahodari; this included the daughter of one's father's brother or one's mother's sister) and nenda (paternal aunt), though he could marry his niece (leli) and maternal aunts (loku-amma, kudamma).
For a marriage to be valid, the parties also had to have the intention of forming a marital union. This was due to the fact that in Kandyan society, sexual morality hardly ever mattered and polygyny (a man taking more than one wife), polyandry (a woman taking more than one husband) and concubinage were all recognised as legal. Group marriages and trial marriages were also commonplace.
Furthermore, Buddhism saw to it that marriage in Sinhalese society became a secular contract and not a rigid sacrament as in Hindu law, so that marriage itself had "little force or validity" as noted by Knox. Says Knox, "In this country, even the greatest hath but one wife, but a woman often has two husbands."
The polyandry practiced in Kandyan times was usually of the fraternal type and was known by the euphemism eka-ge-kama (lit. eating in one house). Joao Riberio (1685) says of the Sinhalese during the time of Portugues rule (17th century): "A girl makes a contract to marry a man of her own caste (for she cannot marry outside it), and if the relatives are agreeable they give a banquet and unite the betrothed couple. The next day a brother of the husband takes his place, and if there are seven brothers she is the wife of all of them, distributing the nights by turns, without the husband having a greater right than any of his brothers. [...] [T]he woman who is married to a husband with a large number of brothers is considered very fortunate, for all toil and cultivate for her and bring whatever they earn to the house, and she lives much honoured and well supported and for this reason the children call all the brothers their fathers."
[...] There also existed group marriages, where the brothers of one family jointly entered into matrimony with the sisters of another. Polygyny and polyandry however did not find favour with the British who saw to its abolition by means of the Kandyan marriage ordinance of 1859.
Trial marriages were also common among the Kandyans. Davy (Account of the interior of Ceylon 1821) says that the first fortnight of the bride's cohabitation with her husband was a period of trial at the end of which the marriage was either annulled or confirmed.
[...] Divorce, as might be expected of such a promiscuous society, was very easy. Kandyan law recognised that either men or women may dissolve the marriage tie at their will and pleasure. Says Knox, "Both women and men do commonly wed four or five times before they can settle themselves to their contentation."
[...] Kandyan law recognised two forms of marriage, namely, diga marriage and binna marriage. In diga marriage, the woman went to live in her husband's house and gave up her claims to the parental estate. This was the usual mode of marriage among the Kandyans. Binna marriage was a marriage where the husband contracted to go and live in the wife's house. Such a marriage necessarily entailed the husband being subject to a "petticoat government", for the wife was the head of the house, a virtual matriarch. It is said to have been a marriage "contracted with a wink and ended by a kick".
According to Knox, there existed certain lands in Kandy known as bini-pangu that were hereditary through the female line. He says "Younger sons of other families, when grown up, the elder brothers having all the land, they marry these women that have lands. A man in this case only differs from a servant in laying with his mistress for she will bear rule and he no longer then willing to obey can continue but she will turn him away at her pleasure."
[...] Binna marriage would have been a convenient arrangement by which means readily available male labour could be obtained for running a girl's parents' estate in case they had no male offspring. Such an arrangement would have also served to help a woman look after her aged parents in the comfort of their home. Binna marriages are still recognised in the Kandyan districts.

An Emperor's sister and her harem

Imperial princesses were exempted from many of the rules that governed wives in China, and only the emperor could discipline them. During the rule of the Southern Dynasties (A.D. 317-589), one Chinese princess argued that she, like her brother the emperor, was entitled to a harem. Her wishes prevailed, and she was assigned thirty male “concubines.”
- Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History

The history of the concept of "illegitimacy" in Japan

Japan had no equivalent to the English word bastard until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Only then did Japanese reformers adopt Western distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate children. Prior to that time, the language had a word to indicate that a child had been born to a concubine rather than a wife, but such a child was not necessarily denied inheritance rights or legal recognition. Indeed, the Taishou Emperor, who ascended to the throne in 1912, was the son of a concubine of the last Meiji emperor.
- Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History

The French Revolution and the sexual revolution

Especially momentous for relations between husband and wife was the weakening of the political model upon which marriage had long been based. Until the late seventeenth century the family was thought of as a miniature monarchy, with the husband king over his dependents. As long as political absolutism remained unchallenged in society as a whole, so did the hierarchy of traditional marriage. But the new political ideals fostered by the Glorious Revolution in England in 1688 and the even more far-reaching revolutions in America and France in the last quarter of the eighteenth century dealt a series of cataclysmic blows to the traditional justification of patriarchal authority.
In the late seventeenth century John Locke argued that governmental authority was simply a contract between ruler and ruled and that if a ruler exceeded the authority his subjects granted him, he could be replaced. In 1698 he suggested that marriage too could be seen as a contract between equals.
[...] If wives and husbands were intimates, wouldn't women demand to share decisions equally? If women possessed the same faculties of reason as men, why would they confine themselves to domesticity? Would men still financially support women and children if they lost control over their wives' and children's labor and could not even discipline them properly? If parents, church, and state no longer dictated people's private lives, how could society make sure the right people married and had children or stop the wrong ones from doing so?
Conservatives warned that "the pursuit of happiness," claimed as a right in the American Declaration of Independence, would undermine the social and moral order.
[...] The revolutionary government in France made divorce the most accessible it would be until 1975 and also abolished the legal penalties for homosexual acts. Such penalties ran contrary to the Enlightenment principle that the state should remain aloof from people's private lives. "Sodomy violates the rights of no man," said Condorcet. Although Napoleon repealed France's liberal divorce law in the early 1800s, he reaffirmed the decriminalization of homosexuality, [and also decriminalized consanguinamory].
During the 1790s the French revolutionaries redefined marriage as a freely chosen civil contract, abolished the right of fathers to imprison children to compel obedience, mandated equal inheritance for daughters and sons, and even challenged the practice of denying inheritance rights to illegitimate children, the cornerstone of property rights for thousands of years.
 - Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History

The Catholic Church, "Incest", and taboo as a political weapon

The Roman Catholic Church's definition of incest is one of the most intriguing features of medieval marriage. Neither the Old nor New Testament provided any basis for it. But in the mid-sixth century, church synods began to denounce as incestuous the Old Testament practice of marrying a brother's widow. Also, during the sixth and seventh centuries bishops began condemning marriage to first and second cousins, stepmothers or stepdaughters, and the widows of uncles. [...]
A few decades later marriage was forbidden up to the seventh degree of separation [...]. This made it illegal to marry a descendant of one's great-great-great-great-grandfather! By the end of the eighth century it was incestuous to marry in-laws, the kin of godparents or godchildren, or a relative of someone you had once had sexual intercourse with. It was also forbidden to marry a relative of someone you had previously promised but failed to marry. These prohibitions were so broad that almost any match could be ruled invalid. One historian notes that, at least in theory, the incest rules prohibited young village men from wedding "all the marriageable girls they could possibly know and a great many more besides."
Whatever the reasons for their breadth, these incest prohibitions became very useful weapons in the power struggles of the age. [...][I]n the medieval period the Church still enforced most of its principles on marriage erratically and arbitrarily. It spent little time investigating the marriages of common folk, although it readily sold dispensations when a conscientious commoner asked for a formal exemption from the rules that most people simply ignored. Even in a royal or aristocratic marriage, the Church seldom inquired into the degree of familial connection unless it was engaged in a power struggle with one of the families involved or was asked to intervene.
[...] In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council narrowed the definition of incest to four degrees of separation. The council's stated aim was to enforce the modified ban more stringently. But popes continued to grant dispensations for political or financial gain. Under the papacy of Boniface IV (1389-1404), marital dispensations were openly available for sale, with a sliding fee scale based on the value of the concession being sought.
- Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History

Consanguinamory may have been pivotal to the creation of modern civilization

Brother-kings married sister-queens, [...] flouting a prohibition commoners will have felt to be natural. Lords and ladies of the earth flaunted superhuman invulnerability, constructing auras of power by haughty taboo-breaking. They did so especially when they had not yet invented the administrative and communications systems to enforce their rule by less colorful means. [...]
Polynesian peoples developed a number of high-chiefdom/almost-state societies in which brother-sister marriage for the high-ranking was politically salient. [...]
Where conditions for ranking were auspicious, a family that risked inverting taboo and ignoring aversion set in train a snowballing status improvement for its descendants and an evolutionary leap in social complexity for its society. Somewhere in the history of all early states we might expect to find royal brother-sister incest lurking.
Hill Gates, Inbreeding, Incest, and the Incest Taboo

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Consensual Incest Never Happens?

Really? Well then...

A follower asked me a question, and I answered

Hi there- i hope this doesnt offend you, i dont mean to judge or anything, im genuinely curious... you post about marriage equality for siblings and such- i support full marriage equality too, even for family if its consentual and loving... but also i was ritually abused by my mother for a long time as a child so this issue is conflicting and confusing for me to think about. I dont want to assume all interfamilial romances are screwed up like my experience was- but its really hard for me to imag
Hi again- admittedly its my fault im uneducated about the subject... but sometimes its easier to hear things from a person. (Its hard for me to go out and actively search for family anything without getting triggered) but im polyamorous so if i want marriage equality it would be the height of hypocracy to deny it to amyone else. Okay im seriously going now. Lol. Marriage solidarity! (And sorry again if i was rude- im trying to understand and overcome any misconsceptions i have)
My answer:

King Mausolus and Queen Artemisia II of Caria

Statue of King Mausolus from the Mausoleum

The love between Artemisia II and her brother Mausolus was so profound, they became symbols of love and devotion. Mausolus was a rich Hellenistic vassal of the Persian Empire in what is now Turkey. Under the reign of him and his sister, their territory flourished, and they built many monuments.

Artist's depiction of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
Horse from the roof of the Mausoleum

Their final monument was so glorious, it became known as one of the seven wonders of the world: a giant tomb, to house their ashes. (It’s from “Mausolus” that we get the word “mausoleum.”) When her brother Mausolus died, Artemisia’s grief was so great that she ritually drank a bit of his ashes every day. She ruled well for two years, but eventually wasted away from sorrow. Her ashes were sealed in the Mausoleum with what remained of her brother’s. Their tomb would last for over a thousand years, amazing everyone who saw it.

Modern statue of Artimesia II drinking Mausolus' ashes

King Kamehameha III and Princess Nahi'ena'ena

Portrait of King Kamehameha III of Hawai'i

Portrait of a young Princes Nahi'ena'ena

Portrait of an adult Princess Nahi'ena'ena

Like in many other Polynesian cultures, it was common practice in Hawai’ian society for royals to marry within their own family. The practice was actually encouraged by Hawai’ian elders. When Christian missionaries came to Hawai’i, they tried to crush the practice. The last Hawai’ian king to have a consanguineous relationship was King Kamehameha III, the first Christian king of Hawai’i. However, he didn’t succumb to the wishes of the missionaries.

At an early age, he had fallen in love with his sister Nahi’ena’ena, and wanted to marry her. Because of opposition by the missionaries, he did not, but he also held off marrying the preferred choice of the missionaries for many years. Bingham learned that even after King Kamehameha III of Hawaii accepted Christian rule, he slept for several years with his sister, Princess Nahi’ena’ena — pleasing their elders but disturbing the missionaries. They did it, says historian Carando, because they loved each other.” He only married the wife favored by the missionaries after his sister had died.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

New Drug Helps Huntington’s Disease Afflicted Mice and Their Offspring

An article from Neuroscience News brings attention to great new research:

Famine, drug abuse and even stress can “silence” certain genes, causing health problems in generations to come. Now scientists are wondering–could therapies that change gene expression in parents help their children?
A new study from scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) suggests this is possible. The research showed that the offspring of mice treated with a drug also had delayed onset and reduced symptoms of Huntington’s disease, an inherited, degenerative disease that causes a loss of motor skills, cognitive impairment and death. This was the first time scientists have shown that drug compounds that benefit parents can also cause changes in genetic expression that benefit offspring–in this case, improved memory and motor skills.
“One exciting aspect of our study is that the parental drug treatment made the offspring better, not worse, like other compounds known to cause transgenerational effects,” said Elizabeth Thomas, associate professor at TSRI who led the new study. Thomas and her colleagues report their findings online ahead of print in this week’s Early Edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Compound Shows Potential
The Huntington’s Disease Society of America estimates that more than a quarter of a million Americans have the disease or are at risk of inheriting it from a parent. Thomas began studying Huntington’s disease 15 years ago, when she found out that a close friend’s mother had the disease.
“If your mom or dad carries the mutation, you have a 50-50 chance of inheriting the disease,” said Thomas. Although there is a test to see if a person will develop Huntington’s, Thomas said many people don’t get tested because there are no good treatments to prevent or reduce symptoms.
Thomas and other scientists at TSRI have been testing compounds called histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors to see if they can induce “epigenetic” changes to help lessen the severity of diseases such as Huntington’s. Epigenetics refers to changes in gene expression–triggered by diet or toxins in the environment, for example–that are not caused by changes to the genetic code. While the genetic sequence itself remains unchanged, epigenetic changes can be passed to the next generation and have been linked to conditions such as obesity and autism-related disorders. Epigenetic changes are often caused by DNA methylation, a process where a methyl group is attached to DNA, silencing gene expression.
Looking Ahead
With the new results from mouse models, Thomas is curious whether the effects of HDAC inhibitors could be passed down through the female germline, and whether the beneficial effects could persist in generations of grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
The scientists are also interested in the effects of other types of HDAC inhibitors already approved to treat certain cancers and bipolar disorder. “Many patients with these diseases have kids, so a big question is how these treatments might affect their offspring,” said Thomas.
This is great news for everybody. We may be able to make significant improvements in people's genetic health, curing many, many diseases, before we even have a handle on genetic engineering. One day, your medication for bipolar, depression, or anxiety might also inoculate your children and grand children.

This is especially important news for consanguinamorous people, though. As I've written about before, the consequences of reproducing with a close relative are exacerbated by epigenetic effects. Because epigenetic markers are passed on to your children, adults can affect their children's health outcomes through lifestyle changes. It's not a real fix for the problem, though. Drugs like this, and other compounds being used in experiments, have the potential to almost eliminate the health consequences for the children of consanguineous couples.

There will likely be a day in our own lifetimes where the eugenic argument against consanguinamory will be considered ridiculous and medically irrelevant.

More help for ensuring healthy babies for incestuous couples

I've written previously about experiments showing that epigenetics are possibly the primary factor in reducing the fitness of offspring to genetically close individuals. (They proved it by curing the inbred plants of their problems with a simple chemical treatment.)

Excessive methylation of the embryo's genome during development in the womb leads to too many genes being turned off. This over-methylation may be caused by the child receiving identical copies of the same methylation control gene from both parents. When the copies are identical (a.k.a. homozygous), they are expressed too strongly in the embryo. Fortunately (and unfortunately), methylation is affected by the behavior and diet of the parents. This means that if consanguineous parents change their diet, they can improve the health of their future children.

More research has come out about methylation and diet. The study focused on children of impoverished parents, but less methylation is exactly what the children of consanguineous parents need. They found that two compounds - cysteine and homocysteine - were highly correlated with lower levels of methylation in offspring. Homocysteine and it's precursors are dangerous for personal health in high levels, but cysteine is important in many processes (like reducing heavy metals in your blood).

Cysteine can be found in these foods:
  • pork
  • poultry
  • eggs
  • dairy
  • red peppers
  • garlic
  • onions
  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • oats
  • wheat germ
  • sprouted lentils
Homocysteine can also be increased on its own, or by increasing methionine, but both are riskier. Talk to a doctor first, if you can find one you trust.

The Key to Healthy Children for Incestuous Couples

The traditional argument against close relatives having children (besides "Ew, yuck!") is that they risk a higher rate of genetic disease. Now, I'm not going to get into the old debate over whether a 2% or 4% or 8% increase in disease warrants such a strong reaction. In fact, I'm writing to challenge a basic assumption by both sides in this argument: that the parents' genes are even the primary problem here; as well as to show that one day soon, we might be able to eliminate most of these risks.

There's a term scientists have, a catchall phrase, for all the detrimental effects of close genetic mating on a population: inbreeding depression. (It's the fitness of the population that's depressed by generations of interbreeding, hence the name.) Inbreeding depression does not occur in the ways or at the rates scientists would expect, if bad genes were the only real cause. Environment can make the difference between consanguineous mating hurting or helping the population, and some species don't even seem to be affected by interbreeding. (Skip to 2:44 if the link doesn't do that for you.)

The fact is, we're all carrying around junk in our genomes that could cripple us, but it never gets turned on. After all, bacteria are cloning themselves, and they seem to do fine, and yet we mammals have increased problems having children with our twins? Doesn’t that seem odd? Well, it is odd.

Where do the increased problems come from, then? The answer: epigenetics. Recently, scientists have realized that which combinations of genes are turned on when, is just as important as which genes you actually have. They've discovered that environmental factors over your lifetime chemically alter your DNA, changing the way it's expressed. These changes over your lifetime can control your weight, your rate of cancer, and more, and you can even pass these changes on to your children. This allows species to evolve quickly without having to even change their genes.

The most powerful epigenetic process is called DNA methylation. Methyl compounds bind to your DNA, inhibiting certain genes. If you have too little methylation, harmful genes accumulated over the life of our species can get turned on, causing diseases such as cancer. If you have too much methylation, many important genes can fail to turn on, and your cells won't properly coordinate or function, leading to developmental problems or miscarriage.

But this all comes with some miraculous discoveries! Recently, several research papers have shown that many of the bad side effects of consanguineous mating that we previously thought were caused by bad shared genes (a.k.a. inbreeding depression), aren't caused by bad genes at all! They're caused by epigenetics, specifically too much methylation during the embryo's development.

But this is actually great news, because the epigenome is easier to modify than the genome. There's something even more amazing that came out of that first paper: the way they tested their methylation hypothesis was by curing their experimental group of inbreeding depression! (The test group members were bred with themselves, which is as close genetically as you can get.) Yes, we might have the technology now to eliminate most of the extra risks consanguinamorous couples face when having children! Unfortunately, the treatment's not commercially available - epigenetics is too new a field. However, it is something we can look forward to.

Because your epigenome changes over your life, and affects the epigenome of your children, there should be steps you can take now to decrease the likelihood of problems your children would face. (This goes for all couples, not just the consanguinamorous.) Lifestyle choices, like chemical exposure, diet, and exercise affect your epigenome. Unfortunately, there's not enough research on the epigenetics of consanguineous mating for me to really tell you what you would have to do. If you're curious, consult a doctor, perhaps they have some more insight than I can give on specific actions you can take.

Edit: Further research provides some practical advice!

The evolution of inbreeding avoidance is complicated

[...][A]n attempt to mount a purely eugenic argument would be confused because the maladaptive genes expressed when inbreeding is common are not removed from the population by preventing inbreeding. Indeed, inbreeding is the best way of getting rid of those genes in the long run.
- Patrick Bateson, Inbreeding, Incest, and the Incest Taboo

Inbreeding avoidance evolved in part because it helped individuals and their children and grandchildren, on average, not because it made the population as a whole genetically healthier; the genes for inbreeding avoidance propagated more, on average, over time, than their competitors.  Evolution, like life, is more complicated than our taboos.

Among Great Tits (a type of bird), mating with a sibling is frequently a risk worth taking

The hatching of eggs is reduced by 7.5% for every 10% increase of [consanguinity]. The effect of inbreeding is smaller at the moment of fledging. The recruitment to the next generation at breeding age is not lower from related pairs than from other pairs with the same clutch size in the same year. There is a separate effect on the hatching rate if the female is inbred. However the recruitment from the clutches where either the male or the female is inbred is twice as high as expected. This can be explained because a few individuals have produced many offspring. The offspring have a high chance of mating with a relative, but the adverse effects of inbreeding are offset by higher recruitment. There is no evidence that inbreeding is avoided. Neither is it clear that inbreeding avoidance would be selectively advantageous.
- A.J. van Noordwijk and W. Scharloo, "Inbreeding in an Island Population of the Great Tit"

Basically, less eggs hatch, but they have more eggs to compensate, and their surviving children are actually significantly more likely to reach adulthood than outbred birds, especially when the parents are cousins. The benefits and costs of inbreeding vs. outbreeding are too complex and dependent on other factors for there to be significant evolutionary pressure against inbreeding in Great Tits.

What About Donor-Conceived People Getting Together?

Via Full Marriage Equality:
Q: How worried should I be about inadvertent partnering of two donor conceived half siblings from the same donor?
A: This is an issue of concern for many people considering donor conception (donor sperm, donor egg, or donor embryo). While the fear is understandable, many professionals believe the fear is not well founded. For example, we asked this question to Ole Schou, founder and CEO of Cryos International sperm banks, who has researched and spoke to professional groups on this issues. [Note that he is not a native English speaker.]
“There is no reason to be concerned about accidental incest between donor conceived children/adults. The risk is extremely low. Professionals call the risk consanguinity or inbreeding. It is also described as incest. However, this word is surrounded by many taboos and connected to something morally wrong, and is not the best word to use in this situation. If we look into what it really means, it is only relevant for donors in very rare situations. Consanguinity means that the DNA by the two parents are too closely matched. The concern is for the increase in recessive DNA disorders in children where the parents DNA are too closely matched. Remember that all humans have plenty of these recessive genes (C.J. Bell 2011).
However, the risk may only be increased some few percentage in comparison to normal procreation. So this is not much. It is more a problem if it continues generation after generation. Then everybody will sooner or later be affected. This is seen in for instance very small and isolated communities or in royal families. This is not relevant for donors as it is only a one generation issue. Further, the risk that two half siblings from the same donor meet each other is generally very little if the sperm bank distribute internationally or worldwide. For small sperm banks servicing only a little community there should be limits on the number of children per donor–a maximum of 10 according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine.
Consanguinity is only a question about distribution. For example, 2 children in a rural district induce a higher risk than 100 children in a big city or 1,000 children in a big country or 100,000 children in the world. Today, most large sperm bank distribute nationally or internationally, and it is seldom that a donor father has more than 25 children. In rare cases, it has been reported that there have been more than 150 children from the same donor, but this is not a problem if the geographical distribution is ensured. Also, note that consanguinity by sperm donors are considered to be much less frequent than the general risk in the community (J.L. Serre, 2013).”

"The supposed depravity of cousin marriage: a moral panic we'd be better off without"

Amen to that. This is so on point:
It amazes me that so few liberal-minded Americans know this, but in fact anxiety over cousin marriage is a peculiarly American thing, the product of the same nineteenth-century anxieties about supposed backwoods degenerates and “corruption of our racial stock” that led to the early-twentieth-century boom in “eugenics.” First-cousin marriage is illegal in thirty states, and an outright criminal offense in five. By contrast, first-cousin marriage is legal in all of Europe save for Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia, and legal as well in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, and most of Latin America.
[...] There are genetic risks in first-cousin marriage, but they’re fairly marginal, and can mostly be addressed by getting genetic counseling before having children. For marriages of second cousins and the like, the risks are nearly imperceptible. In fact, if the consequences of first-cousin marriage were as calamitous as many Americans seem to think, the human race would have died out tens of thousands of years ago. For most of history, most humans have lived in small communities and not traveled very far from home; cousin marriage has been extraordinarily common, and yet has somehow failed to yield a planet full of shambling six-fingered freaks.
The problem with finding it hilarious that some states ban same-sex marriage but allow cousin marriage is that you’re basically trashing those states for having laws which are progressive. And when you slam a state like North Carolina with this stuff, you’re participating in a long American history of using cousin marriage as a way of imputing that poor rural people, particularly poor rural people in Appalachia and the South, are depraved, terrifying, and other. Their physical infirmities aren’t products of poverty, malnutrition, and abuse; they’re because something’s fundamentally wrong with them as organisms. It’s not a rhetorical tradition to be proud of.
The comments are gold:

Danish professor of criminal justice ethics: "Sibling incest should be legal"

A Danish professor responds to the German Advisory Council's recommendation to decriminalize sibling consanguinamory:

Alan Bittles on his own meta-study

[...][If] the data [from my meta-study] are censored to exclude physical and mental abnormalities among the male and female parents, and major disparities with respect to young and advanced maternal age, few differences remain in the overall health outcomes recorded for [the children of the consanguineous group and the children of the control group].
- Alan H. Bittles, Inbreeding, Incest, and the Incest Taboo 
Given the strongly judgmental societal attitudes, direct assessment of the biological outcomes of incest may be subject to significant ascertainment bias, as a rigorous examination, including determination of paternity, may be initiated only if a child shows symptoms of physical or intellectual handicap, or both. The net result is a marked lack of data, which probably does not reflect the actual numbers of incestuous pregnancies that successfully proceed to term. Problems also arise in attempting to control for the potentially adverse effects of nongenetic variables, such as very young or advanced maternal and paternal ages, paternal disease, and unsuccessful attempted interruption of the pregnancy.
- Alan H. Bittles, Inbreeding, Incest, and the Incest Taboo

"Why Marrying Your Cousin May Pay Off"

Oh my god. This is the strongest academic evidence I've seen to date. This is the kind of research I've only dreamed about. My jaw is on the floor.
In traditional residential societies, couples who were more closely related to each other had more children. By contrast, in migrant societies, related spouses had fewer direct descendants, the research revealed.
[...] "There's this counterintuitive finding that higher spousal relatedness is related to higher reproductive success in several humans societies," said Drew Bailey, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and co-author of the study detailed May 21 in the journal Biology Letters. Even in modern, industrialized society, research suggests that people tend to marry others with similar DNA.
[...] In the new study, Bailey and his colleagues examined 46 small-scale societies to compare the effect of inbreeding on the fitness of foragers and non-foragers. The non-foraging societies included horticulturalists, agriculturalists and herding populations, whereas foraging societies were primarily hunter-gatherers. The researchers defined fitness as the number of surviving children in the family tree.
In line with previous findings, the researchers found that among non-foraging societies, a couple's relatedness was linked with having more surviving children. But among foraging societies, the opposite was true: More-closely related spouses had fewer surviving children. Furthermore, the more family intermarriage in a society, the greater the benefit of intermarrying on the number of children couples had. In other words, in societies in which people frequently married their relatives, intermarrying showed a stronger link to having more children.
[...] There could be many explanations for the different effects of inbreeding shown in the two kinds of societies. Perhaps the best explanation, Bailey said, may be that non-foraging societies are more likely to have heritable resources, such as wealth or livestock, so a tight-knit family group might be more likely to defend each other and their shared resources. By contrast, in a foraging society, it might make more sense to be part of a much larger, interconnected group, since there are few or no resources to be inherited.
It's tempting to think that people in agricultural societies might intermarry purely out of convenience, since they're less likely to encounter new people as often as hunter-gatherers might. But that's not the case, Bailey said. Agricultural societies tend to be much larger than hunter-gatherer ones, so if anything, the reverse might be expected.
[...] Still, it's hard to untangle whether there's a causal link between inbreeding and producing more children, Bailey said. Also, because marriages between two closely related individuals are rare in hunter-gatherer societies, the study was based on a small sample, which could have skewed the results.
Clearly, there needs to be more research. There are several things they're not considering.

For one, notice how in societies that regularly practice consanguineous marriage, such marriages are actually more reproductively successful. They didn't study disease rates, but rates for cousins usually aren't high. However, in societies where cousins frequently marry, they'd share a higher percentage of genes than otherwise. This study shows that we actually see an improvement in the number of surviving children.

One very significant possibility is that, as a result of their marriage practices, these societies have re-engineered their genes, and over time eliminated some of their damaging genes by exposing them through endogamy. The larger a population is, the less dangerous "inbreeding" is in the long run for the whole population. Some pockets have good genes while others have bad, and the higher rate of endogamy gives a selective advantage to those families with few harmful recessive genes. Is this actually the case, that, on average, ethnicities with a long history of consanguineous marriage have fewer harmful genes? Is "inbreeding" less dangerous in the long run for settled societies because they have larger populations?

There's another thing that doesn't get considered by academics: if, for whatever reason, there's a reproductive advantage to endogamy, then those who willingly engage in endogamy, and are more willing to have sex with their spouse, would be favored by natural selection. That means that, in settled societies, we should expect to see a higher percentage of people who feel sexual attraction for family. No-one knows what genes are responsible for the Westermarck Effect, so no-one can do any studies on population genetics to see which mutations are prevalent in which regions. The stereotype is that there's something "incestuous" about Europeans. Is it even true?

And after all, even among wild animals, it's been observed that rates of fertilization are higher when mates are closely related, because of the higher genetic compatibility between the mother and her zygote/fetus. Is this contributing to the findings?

If their hypothesis is true, then the primary difference in selective success for consanguineous couples is determined by social and economic forces. Exogamy is more socially and economically advantageous in small-scale, hunter-gatherer societies, while endogamy is more advantageous in large-scale, agrarian societies. Is this evidence for the mostly abandoned view, that socioeconomic forces are a prime driver for the development of "incest" taboos?

No-one knows.

"Sex and the Siberian Neanderthal: Incest and Interspecies Action"

New research is shedding light on the mating habits of our sometime closest relatives.
Researchers extracted DNA from this toe bone of a Siberian Neanderthal female who lived about 50,000 years ago.
The first high-quality genome sequence of a Siberian Neanderthal female is throwing up racy details about our ancient relatives’ sex lives: Siberian Neanderthals mated within their families, the new research shows, while another group, the Denisovans, interbred with Neanderthals, humans and a third, as yet undiscovered mystery hominin living in Asia.
The first anthropologists relied on skull shapes and bone lengths of fossils to identify ancestors in the hominin family tree. Recently though, geneticists have bulked up their toolset, and have identified new species from material taken from mere milligrams of bone. This time, they didn't even need that. "There is not even a bone splinter here," Svante Pääbo, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, said of the unknown species. "It’s an inference from those other genomes."
By comparing genetic evidence of the Neanderthal female who lived some 50,000 years ago, with the sequence of a Denisovan girl published in August last year, Pääbo and team discovered a small but discrete signature of a much older species, which the paleoanthropologists suspect might be Homo erectus. The full analysis of the Siberian Neanderthal genome is published in the Thursday issue of Nature.
The entrance to the Denisova cave where researchers came across a fragment of bone from a Denisovan girl's pinkie finger in 2008, and uncovered the Neanderthal toe bone in 2010.
[...]Inbred bunch
New insights into the Neanderthal genome comes from genetic material extracted from the toe bone of a female found in the Denisova cave in the Altai mountains of Siberia. Using techniques refined in the last few years, researchers extracted enough detail to create a genetic picture of the individual's parents.
"We can see that the mama and papa of the individuals were very closely related — half siblings or so," Pääbo said.
There was also a lack of diversity in the genetic material which indicated that sex between closely related individuals within the Siberia Neanderthal community was a regular affair for generations before the girl's time.
A close read of Neanderthal groups that lived in other parts of Europe would indicate if the practice of inbreeding was common across the species. It is possible, Pääbo said, that the Altai Neanderthals were "such a small population that you’ve hardly any other choice."
"Identifying inbreeding down to the level of what degree of relation was mating with who is huge!" Ross Barnett, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Copenhagen who was not involved with the study, wrote to NBC News. "For the first time we are seeing the home life of our extinct relatives."
I'd be really interested in finding that out myself. Was it merely compensating  behavior, because of their small population in the north, or was it a species-wide breeding strategy? Neanderthal social groups were much smaller than modern human groups.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

"Riley County Police Department - Illegal consanguineous marriage"

Tammie C. Bouslaugh, 40, of St. George, was arrested on a Riley County warrant for incest and remained confined on a $3000 bond. Bouslaugh allegedly falsified documents in order to permit her to marry a family member. This case remains under investigation and no further details are being released at this time.
I always wonder how many little reports such as these slip through the cracks. I wonder how many such cases could be found, diving through local papers from the 1960s. What are the actual arrest statistics on consanguinamory? I know that official statistics don't make any kind of distinction. How many people are rotting in jail right now, for a case from 1980? From 1970? What kind of experience do these people have in jail, once everyone knows why they're there?

I know for a fact that many more couples have forged illegal identities, or relied on badly informed documentation, to get their marriage officiated. Some of them are even on Tumblr. Frequently couples just seem to disappear into the system. There may be more evidence out there than we realize. All of the stuff I've found so far has been from the past 10 years of the internet. That's not a lot of time.

Looking at Consanguineous Ancestors at Reddit

Via Full Marriage Equality:
My parents are first cousins. My dad's parents were first cousins. [...] When the family began moving to the States, they came to discover that most Americans find (or some pretend to find) cousin [marriage] nasty, so nobody spoke about the relationships to anyone. Well, except one of piece of shit cousins and his bitch mom, who was my dad's youngest sister.
My cousin would publicly mock my brother and I about our parents being cousins because he thought himself to be a special snowflake since his mom and dad weren't related. His mom also would publicly ask my brother and I stupid questions, like "Why don't you guys call your dad 'Uncle Dad' and your mom 'Aunt Mom'?"
In 2012, my cousin ended up marrying his own first cousin! lol I haven't spoken to him or his family since 2010, but I always want to just hit them up and be like, "Hey, auntie, why don't you call your son's wife 'Daughter-in-Law Niece'?" If I ever see them in public, I'm going to make it an embarrassing encounter just like they'd do to my brother and I when we were kids. Let's see how they handle strangers close by looking at them and judging them.
[...] On the Puerto Rican side of my family, my [great great] Grandparents were siblings. It's the only known incest and no genetic disorders expressed in my generation. My [great great] grandfather did have an uncle who had a "blue child" (like as in the kid was blue. Not sure how much to believe it but they insist it's true. Sadly, no color photos in the 1800s) and his brother had extra fingers. But aside from them, no weird genetics.
Unless his great grandfather is the product of consanguinamory too, that information about his great great granduncle is totally irrelevant. That's not how genetics works.
I was looking at that family line, and twice a woman saw her own daughter marry her brother. Yeesh.
How naive people are, to think it couldn't be in their own family.
My daughter was diagnosed at age 18 with mosaic turners syndrome. She has no physical features like webbed hands or feet, but after the doctor told us that, I recalled that my grandfather's sister had webbed feet and hands. She never had children either. So did a little genealogy search, did not have to go back far on that side of my family to find a great - many times back - grandfather who widowed, then wait, what..? wasn't she his sister? You can't marry your sister...Yep.
Once again, consanguinity that far back in a family tree has no bearing on modern generations' health. It's negative effects come from receiving two copies of certain genes, one from each parent. Different negative side-effects can continue perhaps one generation beyond, through the mother, if the mother gained reproductive disorders.
Child of incest here. My dad was my mom's uncle. They met at a family reunion for extra points lol. Haven't really noticed much on my end. No major issues like physical deformities or anything. Mental issues (bipolarism, depression, etc) tend to run in my family, so I deal with some of that. Depression mostly, and occasional hallucinations. Not sure if that's been made worse by the fact that my parents were related or not.
[...] My great grandparents were first cousins AND step siblings. I was shocked when I found out but it seems it was pretty common in small European villages at the time. I don't inherited any genetic disorders from that side of the family, but my father is color blind so I might pass that to my hypothetical children.
No he won't. Color-blindness is carried by the X chromosome. Whether your son gets it or not has nothing to do with how closely related your spouse is to you. He gets it from his mother.
My family history on my mother's side has always been something of a blip in our otherwise 'normal' family. My grandmother was a product of incest, her mother and father also being siblings. It came out during my great-grandmother's pregnancy that this baby was the result of incest [...]. Obviously, my family was not okay with that in the slightest and so my grandmother was raised in a very toxic environment and the effect this had on her was enormous.
[...] [My] great-grandparents [...] definitely did not end up together. My grandmother was brought up by her grandparents (my great-great grandparents) as the incestuous siblings were quite young when this happened, around early 20s. My great-grandmother got married, had two more healthy children and (to my knowledge) never told her husband about her other child. My great-grandfather is more of a mystery, I'm only aware that he moved very far north and had nothing much more to do with the family. 
[...] I wish I could tell you more, but my mother only told me the basics just so I knew about it and she refuses to talk about it in any more detail as she is quite ashamed of it. If you need anything clearing up, don't hesitate to ask!
The thread is absolutely swamped with tales of distant cousin-couple ancestry. The American taboo against cousin sex and marriage is ridiculous. We're one of the few countries that harbors such beliefs. Past 1st-cousins, the probability of genetic defects is no higher than the general population. In fact, 3rd and 4th cousins are less likely to have kids with defects. Why is this even still an issue? The American obsession with condemning cousin-couples is bizarre.