Is Dating Your Cousin Illegal in Arkansas? Here’s What the Law Says

Have you ever found yourself drawn to someone who, upon closer inspection, turns out to be a distant relative? Perhaps you grew up in a small town where everyone seems connected, or maybe a family reunion rekindled an unexpected spark. While feelings can blossom in unpredictable ways, navigating the legal and ethical complexities of relationships with close relatives can be tricky. This is especially true when it comes to dating and marrying cousins.

In the United States, laws regarding cousin marriage vary greatly from state to state. Some states, like California and New York, allow first cousins to marry, while others, like Arkansas, have stricter regulations. This article delves into the specific legalities of cousin dating and marriage in Arkansas, exploring the reasons behind the law, the potential consequences, and alternative paths to finding love.

Cousin Dating and Marriage Laws in the United States

For centuries, cousin marriage was a common practice worldwide. In fact, some cultures even encouraged it as a way to keep wealth and property within the family. However, with advancements in genetics, the potential health risks associated with cousin marriage have become more apparent. Studies have shown that children born to first-cousin parents have a slightly higher chance of inheriting certain recessive genetic disorders.

As a result, many states in the US have implemented laws restricting cousin marriage. These laws aim to protect public health and promote healthy family dynamics. It’s important to note that these restrictions typically only apply to first cousins, who share 25% of their DNA. Marriages between cousins once removed (who share 12.5% DNA) or further removed relatives are generally considered safe from a genetic standpoint and are permitted in most states.

Arkansas’s Laws on Cousin Marriage

In Arkansas, the law is clear: marrying a first cousin is illegal. This is outlined in Title 9, Chapter 5 of the Arkansas Code Annotated, specifically Section 9-5-250. The section states that “a man and woman shall not be joined in marriage with each other if either is related to the other within the fourth degree of consanguinity.” The fourth degree of consanguinity refers to first cousins.

There are, however, exceptions to this rule. Marriages between cousins once removed (who share a grandparent) or more distant relatives are perfectly legal in Arkansas. If you’re unsure about your family lineage and its relation to a potential partner, consulting a genealogical resource or a genetic counselor can provide clarity.

Dating vs. Marriage: The Legal Distinction in Arkansas

While marrying a first cousin is prohibited in Arkansas, dating one is not. The law focuses on the legal implications of marriage, such as the creation of a family unit and potential offspring. Dating, on the other hand, falls into a gray area. There are no legal restrictions on consenting adults engaging in a romantic relationship, regardless of their familial connection.

However, even if dating a first cousin is legal, it’s important to consider the potential social and ethical implications. Within close-knit communities, such relationships might raise eyebrows or lead to disapproval. Additionally, navigating family dynamics and potential disapproval from relatives can add unnecessary strain to the relationship. Open communication with your family and partner is crucial if you choose to pursue a romantic connection with a first cousin.

Genetic Risks of Cousin Marriage

As mentioned earlier, the primary reason behind restrictions on cousin marriage is the increased risk of passing on recessive genetic conditions. Recessive conditions are those that require a copy of the defective gene from both parents for the condition to manifest. While everyone carries some recessive genes, the chances of a child inheriting two copies of the same recessive gene are higher when parents are closely related. In the case of first cousins, who share 25% of their DNA, the odds of inheriting the same recessive gene from both parents doubles compared to unrelated parents. This can lead to a higher prevalence of conditions like cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs disease, and some forms of intellectual disability in children born to first-cousin parents.

It’s important to remember that these risks are still relatively low. The overall chance of a child born to first cousins having a serious genetic disorder is estimated to be around 4-6%, compared to the typical 2-3% risk in the general population. However, for couples with a family history of a specific recessive genetic condition, the risk can be significantly higher.

Importance of Genetic Counseling

If you’re considering a relationship with a first cousin, regardless of whether it leads to marriage, genetic counseling can be a valuable resource. Genetic counselors are healthcare professionals who specialize in assessing genetic risks and providing education. They can review your family history, discuss potential risks associated with your specific situation, and offer guidance on prenatal testing options.

Prenatal testing, such as chorionic villus sampling (CVS) or amniocentesis, can identify genetic abnormalities in a developing fetus. While these tests are invasive and carry small risks, they can provide crucial information for couples making informed decisions about their family planning.

Alternatives to Finding Love Within the Family

While the legalities of dating a first cousin might not be a concern in Arkansas, it’s essential to weigh the potential social and ethical considerations. Fortunately, there are many ways to find love outside of your immediate family circle. Here are a few ideas:

  • Expand your social circle: Step outside your comfort zone and explore new activities or hobbies. Join clubs or groups that align with your interests, volunteer in your community, or take a class to meet new people.
  • Online dating platforms: Many reputable online dating platforms cater to a wide range of demographics and interests. Carefully choose a platform that aligns with your values and create a profile that showcases your personality.
  • Embrace serendipity: Don’t underestimate the power of chance encounters. Strike up conversations with people you meet in your daily life, whether it’s at the coffee shop, the gym, or the dog park. You never know who you might connect with.

Finding a compatible partner often involves stepping outside of familiar circles and taking a chance. By exploring new avenues and keeping an open mind, you’ll increase your chances of finding a fulfilling and lasting relationship.


Love can bloom in unexpected places, but navigating the legalities and social complexities of relationships with close relatives requires careful consideration. In Arkansas, marrying a first cousin is illegal, while dating one is not. However, it’s important to weigh the potential genetic risks and social implications before pursuing such a relationship. Remember, there are numerous ways to find love outside of your family lineage. By expanding your social circle, exploring online options, and embracing the unexpected, you’ll open yourself up to a broader range of possibilities and a more fulfilling romantic journey.


Avatar photo
MBS Staff
Articles: 7124

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *