Confining cousins to kissing

Bill would prohibit them from marrying

February 24, 2000|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

You could still kiss your cousins, but you couldn't marry them, if two Maryland delegates have their way.

Under legislation heard by a House of Delegates committee yesterday, state law would prohibit marriages between first cousins.

"In some ways, it's embarrassing" that it's not illegal, said Del. Henry B. Heller, the bill's chief sponsor. "I mean, I thought we were a progressive state."

Heller, a Montgomery County Democrat, said he learned from a magazine article that Maryland law doesn't prohibit such nuptials.

The magazine suggested that first cousins were trooping in from West Virginia, where such marriages are illegal, to get hitched here, Heller said.

The delegate objects to the marriages on the grounds that the offspring of such couples have a greater chance of having genetic problems.

Twenty-eight states prohibit such marriages.

Heller said he's going to use a soft sell on the bill, presenting it as a "simple logic question."

"It's not burning in my belly, but it's gnawing at my conscience," he said.

The bill has prompted laughs around Annapolis and a round of West Virginia jokes.

"I can only think of my own cousins. Why would anybody want to do that?" said Del. Donald E. Murphy, a Baltimore County Republican who sits on the Judiciary Committee, which is considering the bill.

Del. Dana Lee Dembrow, a Montgomery Democrat, said the measure deserves consideration.

"In the urban regions, we may take for granted that it doesn't happen," Dembrow said.

"I don't want to stereotype the rural areas, but it's my impression it's something that does happen in rural areas."

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