Is It Illegal to Marry Your Cousin in Kansas? Here’s What the Law Says

The question of whether it is legal to marry your cousin is a complex one. While the thought may seem taboo in some cultures, cousin marriage has been historically practiced across various societies. Laws regarding cousin marriage vary significantly from state to state within the United States and around the world. In Kansas, the answer is straightforward: cousin marriages are prohibited. This article will explore the laws and reasoning behind this prohibition.

Historical and Cultural Background of Cousin Marriage

  • Throughout history, cousin marriage has been prevalent in many cultures around the globe.
  • Reasons for cousin marriages across history include:
    • Keeping property and wealth within the family.
    • Strengthening familial bonds and alliances.
    • Ensuring compatibility and familiarity between spouses.
  • Famous examples of historical cousin marriages include Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgwood, as well as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Laws Regarding Cousin Marriage in the United States

  • Laws regarding cousin marriage in the United States are determined at the state level.
  • Currently, 24 states explicitly ban first-cousin marriage.
  • Six states allow first-cousin marriage with certain stipulations (e.g., age restrictions, genetic counseling).
  • Nineteen states allow first-cousin marriage without restrictions.

Kansas Law: Specifics and History

  • Kansas was one of the first states in the US to ban cousin marriage, enacting legislation prohibiting it in 1858.
  • The current Kansas law (K.S.A. 23-2017) states: “Marriages between parents and children, including grandparents and grandchildren of every degree, between brothers and sisters of the half as well as the whole blood, between uncles and nieces, aunts and nephews, and between first cousins, are declared to be incestuous and absolutely void.”
  • This law makes no exceptions for age, genetic counseling, or other factors.

Scientific and Medical Concerns

  • The primary reason for bans on cousin marriage rests on concerns about increased risks of genetic disorders in offspring.
  • Children of first cousins have a slightly elevated risk (4-7%) of birth defects compared to the general population (3-4%).
  • The risk increases with closer genetic relationships.
  • Pre-marital genetic counseling can help couples assess these risks.

Arguments for and Against Cousin Marriage Bans

Arguments Against Cousin Marriage Bans

  • Individual Liberty: Supporters argue that bans on cousin marriage infringe upon personal freedom and the right of consenting adults to marry.
  • Cultural Acceptance: Some cultures have a long tradition of cousin marriage, and bans can be seen as discriminatory.
  • Risk Mitigation: Advances in genetic counseling and testing allow couples to make informed decisions about potential risks.

Arguments in Favor of Cousin Marriage Bans

  • Protecting Children: The main goal of these bans is to reduce the risk of genetic disorders in future generations.
  • Public Health: Proponents argue that the potential negative impact on public health outweighs arguments for individual choice.
  • Social Norms: Some believe that upholding a ban on cousin marriage maintains important social and cultural norms.

The Future of Cousin Marriage Laws

  • The debate surrounding cousin marriage bans is likely to continue in the United States.
  • As scientific understanding of genetics improves and societal attitudes shift, laws may change in certain states.
  • Increased access to genetic counseling could play a role in potential changes to cousin marriage laws.

Kansas Case Studies and Personal Narratives

While the law in Kansas is clear, it’s important to understand the real-life implications of these laws. Unfortunately, finding personal stories specifically from Kansas can be difficult due to the sensitive nature of the topic. However, here are some scenarios and resources that illustrate the impact of the legal ban:

  • Relocation for Love: If two cousins living in Kansas fall in love, they would have to relocate to a state where cousin marriage is legal to wed. This can create a significant burden of uprooting lives, careers, and potentially families.
  • Family Division: In a family with a tradition of cousin marriage, Kansas’ law can create division and conflict if younger generations wish to uphold that tradition.
  • The “Romeo and Juliet” Effect: Laws against cousin marriage can sometimes intensify romantic feelings for couples who feel their love is forbidden

Resources and Support

  • Genetic Counseling: Couples considering cousin marriage, regardless of legality, should strongly consider genetic counseling. Clinics in cities like Topeka, Wichita, and Kansas City can offer consultations, risk assessment, and testing.
  • Advocacy Groups: Organizations advocating for individual liberties sometimes challenge restrictions on cousin marriage. While not all focus directly on Kansas, their arguments and lobbying efforts could impact future legislation.
  • Online Communities: Individuals wrestling with the personal and familial impact of these laws may find solace in online communities, forums, or support groups focused on cousin relationships.

Examining the Law in a Modern Context

Kansas’s ban on first-cousin marriage has been in place for over 150 years. It’s important to reflect on whether the original concerns still hold the same weight in today’s world:

  • Advances in Genetics: Our understanding of genetic inheritance, birth defects, and risk assessment has significantly advanced since the 1850s. Modern medicine presents options unavailable to previous generations
  • Changing Social Attitudes: While not universal, acceptance towards non-traditional relationships has increased in recent decades. Some argue this should extend to consenting adult cousins.
  • Global Comparison: Many countries around the world allow cousin marriage. Examining their laws, rates of genetic disorders, and cultural perspectives can broaden the Kansas conversation.


The legality of cousin marriage in Kansas is a complex issue with historical roots, scientific implications, and strong personal impacts. While the current law is clear, the debate over cousin marriage bans is far from settled. As scientific understanding and social views evolve, Kansas may one day revisit its stance on cousin marriage.

Important Note: This article aims to provide information, not legal advice. If you are facing a situation related to cousin marriage, consult with qualified professionals like attorneys and genetic counselors.

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MBS Staff
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