Baroness Flather decries first cousin marriages

Family Law|July 13th 2015

Britain’s first Asian peer has decried the prevalence of marriages among first cousins in the Pakistani community.

In a speech to the House of Lords, Baroness Flather called for mandatory DNA tests for couples who wish to marry in order to ensure they are not related.

Marriage between first cousins is legal in the UK, but Baroness Flather pointed to the high number of such unions in Pakistani communities, particularly those from the disputed Kashmir region in South Asia.

She said:

“We know so much about DNA now, but there is so much disability among the children, which is absolutely appalling.”

The crossbench peer claimed that among families where first cousins have married and had “four or five children, at least one or two … will have some disability”, which she described as “absolutely unacceptable”.

She declared that a rule should be introduced “which says that you must have a DNA examination before your marriage can be registered.”

Approximately three per cent of babies born in the UK are from a Pakistani background, but according to a report from The Telegraph, as many as 30 per cent of babies born with a genetic illness are from that community.

Baroness Flather is a British Indian who became a life peer for the Conservative party in June 1990. Since then, she has left the party, re-joined and left again. She has been a crossbench peer since 2008 and was the first Hindu woman in British politics.

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  1. Andrew says:

    I think what she is saying that first cousins should be allowed to marry if their DNA testing suggests that there is no genetic risk. Whether such testing is possible I do not know. Nor do I know who she thinks will pay for it.

    The problem arises when cousin marriage occurs in generation after generation, which is common among Kashmiris. I know professionally of a case where, using English forenames:
    Alan married Barbara who was his first cousin
    Alan’s sister Charlotte married David who was Barbara’s brother and therefore her first cousin
    Alan and Barbara’ daughter Edith married Charlotte and David’s son Frank.
    That can happen repeatedly and the result is a genetic disaster area – look at the House of Habsburg! But I don’t see any scope for changing the prohibited degrees, nor do I think we should.

  2. Luke says:

    “She declared that a rule should be introduced “which says that you must have a DNA examination before your marriage can be registered.”
    More meddling with unintended consequences, are we seriously saying that two unrelated people who carry a specific gene that ‘might’ cause a problem with offspring cannot get married ?
    If we are not saying that then how can we discriminate against people who are somewhat related ? What if they say that they are not going to have children ? At what level of perceived disability will the cut-off point be ?
    What about older mothers or fathers ? They have a higher risk of problems, maybe we should forcibly stop them procreating ????????
    This is typical of the judicial system – constantly trying to introduce more legislation and ‘opening a can of worms’ in the process.
    Maybe there needs to be efforts to push for cultural changes in certain parts of the world – but that’s their business – and anyway it’s not as ‘sexy’ as introducing legislation…

  3. Andrew says:

    Luke, she’s a member of the House of Lords – not part of the judicial system. But otherwise you are right,

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