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

The question of whether marrying one’s cousin is legal or socially acceptable is a complex one. Laws regarding cousin marriage vary significantly across the United States and around the world. Some cultures have historically embraced cousin marriage, while others strongly discourage or prohibit it. In this article, we’ll delve into the specifics of Michigan law concerning cousin marriage, explore the reasons behind such laws, and examine the ongoing debate surrounding this topic.

Michigan Law: The Specifics

In the state of Michigan, it is illegal for first cousins to marry. Michigan Compiled Laws Section 551.3 states, “No marriage shall be contracted between parties who are within the degrees of consanguinity [blood relationship] within which marriages are prohibited or declared by law to be incestuous and void.” First cousins share a set of grandparents, making them too closely related to marry under Michigan law.

It’s important to understand the concept of “degrees of relation.” First cousins share a common set of grandparents. Second cousins share a common set of great-grandparents, and so on. In Michigan, the law may extend beyond prohibiting simply first-cousin unions. Note that resources like the official Michigan Compiled Laws should be consulted for the most detailed and up-to-date information.

Violating Michigan’s marriage laws could have legal ramifications, potentially leading to the marriage being declared void or other penalties.

Historical and Cultural Context

Historically, cousin marriage was relatively common in many parts of the world, including the United States. In the past, such unions were often seen as a way to consolidate wealth, strengthen family ties, or maintain cultural traditions. Well-known historical figures, including Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, married their first cousins.

However, over time, perceptions of cousin marriage have shifted. Increased scientific understanding of genetics, along with changing social norms, have led to stricter laws and greater social stigma surrounding marriages between close relatives.

Reasons for Restrictions

The primary arguments against cousin marriage center around potential genetic risks and social concerns.

  • Genetic Concerns: Children born to closely related parents have an increased risk of inheriting recessive genetic disorders. This is because closely related individuals are more likely to share the same recessive genes, potentially leading to the expression of harmful traits in their offspring.
  • Social and Cultural Taboos: In many societies, marriage between close relatives is considered taboo. Such relationships may be seen as violating social norms or religious beliefs.

Arguments in Support of Cousin Marriage

Despite the concerns and restrictions, some individuals and groups advocate for the right to marry one’s cousin. Their arguments often focus on:

  • Personal Autonomy: Advocates for cousin marriage argue that adults should have the freedom to choose their partners regardless of familial relationships. They emphasize the right to individual choice and personal liberty.
  • Cultural Traditions: In certain cultures, cousin marriage might be a long-standing tradition with deep historical and social significance. Proponents may argue that laws against such marriages disrespect these cultural practices.

The Michigan Debate

While there may not be a highly organized or vocal movement in Michigan specifically focused on changing the law around cousin marriage, the topic does occasionally spark debate. Understanding public opinion on this issue in Michigan would require specific polling data or surveys.

It’s worth noting that, while illegal, Michigan does allow cohabitation between first cousins. This means first cousins can live together and engage in a sexual relationship without breaking the law.

Resources and Further Information

If you’re seeking more in-depth information or have questions about the specifics of Michigan law, here are some valuable resources:

  • Michigan Compiled Laws: The official source for Michigan statutes. Search for sections related to marriage and consanguinity (
  • Michigan Department of Health and Human Services: May provide information and resources related to marriage laws and genetic counseling.
  • Legal Aid Organizations: These organizations might offer legal advice or support to individuals with questions about family law in Michigan.

Important Considerations

Before making any decisions regarding cousin marriage, there are several factors to consider:

  • The Law: It’s crucial to understand the legal restrictions in your specific state. Marrying in a jurisdiction where cousin marriage is legal does not necessarily guarantee your marriage will be recognized as valid in your home state.
  • Genetic Risks: If you’re considering marrying a close relative, you may want to consult with a genetic counselor about the potential risks of having children together.
  • Social and Familial Implications: Marrying your cousin could affect relationships with other family members and your community. It’s essential to think about the potential social consequences.


The legality of cousin marriage in Michigan, as in many other states, is a complex issue with historical, legal, genetic, and social dimensions. While Michigan law prohibits first-cousin marriage, the debate surrounding the topic reflects diverse viewpoints on personal liberty, cultural practices, and potential health risks. If you are facing questions about cousin marriage, it’s always recommended to seek professional legal advice and consider genetic counseling.


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MBS Staff
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