Keeping marriage in the family is a very weird concept, and a taboo topic for most people in America. However, there are many countries across the world and even some states in America itself, where cousin marriages are considered to be legal.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ website (NCSL), it is legal for first cousins to get married in 21 states across the United States of America. And yes, if you are wondering, you can marry your cousin in Alabama. Professor Alan Bittles of Murdoch University and Edith Cowan University in Australia has researched and thoroughly studied cousin marriages for the last three decades.
According to his research, he states that almost 10.4% of the global population are married to a close relative or are the offspring of such a marriage. This means that there are almost 700 million such people worldwide. Quite a lot of people right?
Read the article to find out more about cousin marriages and what states legalize it. Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
What is a cousin?
In order to fully understand what cousin marriages are you must first understand what a cousin is and what relation do you have with your cousin in the family tree. Your cousins are members in the family who you share a relative with. This relative should be at least one generation away.
There are many different types of cousins. Some of them share a closer relation with you as compared to others. Following are the few types of cousins one could have:
- first cousin: a first cousin is the child of your aunt or uncle, in other words, your parent’s sibling’s child.
- second cousin: a second cousin is the child of your parent’s cousin
- cousin once (or twice) removed: a cousin separated by a generation is your cousin once or twice removed. In simple words, your parent’s cousin is your cousin once removed.
- third cousin: the children of your parent’s second cousins are your third cousins
It is common for people to know their first cousin. But in a lot of cases, you do not know who your second and third cousins are.
What states is it legal to marry your cousin?
As you will notice, most states permit first cousin marriages. This too in a situation where the couple will have no offspring. On the other hand, other states allow cousin marriages in only some situations. In addition to this, if your cousin is adopted or is your half cousin, you can marry him/her in this case as well.
In accordance with the National Conference of State Legislatures, cousin marriages are legal in the following states:
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina (only first cousin marriage is legal, double cousin marriage is not)
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
Moreover, there are some states where marrying your first cousin is only legal in certain situations. These states are:
- Arizona: if both parties are more than 65 years old or one of them is infertile
- Illinois: If both parties are more than 50 years old, or one of them is infertile
- Indiana: If both have a minimum age of 65
- Maine: If couple gets a physician’s approval and a certificate of genetic counseling
- Utah: If both parties are more than 65, or if both are 55 or older and one cannot reproduce
- Wisconsin: If the woman is older than 55, or one of them cannot reproduce
The following states are where cousin marriages are completely illegal in:
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Why are cousin marriages such a taboo?
Marrying your cousin is considered to be a taboo in various cultures. This taboo is deap seated in cultures due to the rules and laws against incest. Moreover, it is also because of genetic reasons. Most researches show that close relatives have many similar genes for different diseases and developmental problems. If siblings tie the knot, the children born as a result are more likely to be born with those diseases or other issues.
However, many cultures promote marriage between cousins, for various reasons. For instance, Queen Victoria, married her first cousin to preserve a royal genealogy and build political associations. In addition to this, a lot of Asian cultures also promote first cousin marriages to strengthen and enhance clan relationships.
In the United States, second cousins are legally allowed to marry in every state. This is because the health risks upon marrying second cousins are smaller as compared to first cousins. Only 21 states in America allow first cousins to be married legally.
What are some cousin marriage problems?
One major problem that can arise due to a cousin marriage is the severe health risk that the couple’s children may face. While the offspring of non-related couples only have a 2-3% risk of acquiring congenital diseases, the risk increases to almost 4-6% if first cousins have a child together. Although this risk may not seem to be very large, it is in fact quite lethal, and you do not want your child to end up being one of those 6% people. Therefore, in order to avoid such a situation, couples should receive genetic counselling from a physician before they make a huge decision.
The belief that the offspring of first cousins have a higher probability of suffering from health issues has been prevalent for centuries. Even though cousin marriages have been a tradition in royal families, high profile business conglomerates, and huge landlords, the highest percentages of consanguinity have been found in the rural population whose basic health status is often extremely poor.
In such situations, if suitable aid is not provided for the family’s severe socio-economic status, then almost all of the health related problems are quite simply blamed on cousin marriages. This happens despite the fact that there is generally no certain proof of a causal relationship between cousin marriages and the health problem.
According to a study by Bittles, he found out thay health problems in children born of cousin marriages are actually less than one might think. There is a higher risk of an early death or a very severe health issue in almost 3.5 percent of children born of first cousins. This value is very less than what most people would have thought. Thus, these studies showed that the health risks of cousin marriages were heavily exaggerated.
However, this does not mean that the risks are completely eliminated. Do not forget that health concerns can arise anytime and it is always better to be safe than sorry. Therefore, before marrying a cousin, do not forget to book an appointment with your phyisician who will provide you with genetic counselling. This will also help you figure out the next steps that you should take.
Some famous cousin marriages
From famous politicians like John Adams and Martin Van Buren to royals like Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, many people in history have ended up marrying their cousins. However, there still are a couple of recent examples where couples chose to tie the knot within their own familial bloodlines, thus keeping it within the family tree. Some of these famous people include:
- Albert Einstein
- Charles Darwin
- G. Wells
- Edgar Allan Poe
- Saddam Hussein
- Greta Scacchi
- Jesse James
- Kevin Bacon
- Jerry Lee Lewis
- Rudy Giuliani
Although a taboo, you now know that cousin marriages are actually quite a more common practice than you may think. In fact, almost half of the states in America allow cousin marriages to take place legally. However, despite its commonality, if you are planning to marry your cousin, make sure to pay your doctor a visit. And do not forget to get genetic counselling.