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

The concept of marrying a cousin may seem unusual or even taboo in some cultures. However, cousin marriage has a long history across the globe and remains practiced in various parts of the world. In the United States, the legality of marrying your first cousin varies from state to state. So, what does the law say about cousin marriage in Nebraska?

Nebraska Law on Cousin Marriage

Nebraska is one of the states in the US that explicitly prohibits marriage between first cousins. Nebraska Revised Statute Section 42-103 states:

“No marriage shall be contracted while either party has a spouse living, nor between parties who are nearer of kin than first cousins, whether of the whole or half-blood, computing by the rules of the civil law, except that when parties are first cousins and the female is older than fifty-five (55) years of age, they may marry. It shall not be lawful for any person to marry his or her father, mother, child, grandchild, brother, sister, brother’s son, sister’s son, brother’s daughter, sister’s daughter, father’s brother, mother’s brother, father’s sister, or mother’s sister.”

This law effectively means that if you and your partner share a grandparent (meaning you are first cousins), you cannot legally marry in the state of Nebraska.

Historical and Cultural Context of Cousin Marriage

  • Global Perspective: Cousin marriage has been practiced for centuries in many cultures worldwide, often for social, economic, and familial reasons such as maintaining family ties, consolidating wealth, and ensuring cultural continuity.
  • American History: While less common now, cousin marriages were historically more prevalent in the United States, particularly in rural communities. Noted figures like Charles Darwin and Edgar Allan Poe married their first cousins.

Scientific and Genetic Considerations

  • Increased Risk of Recessive Disorders: Children born from parents who are closely related have a higher chance of inheriting recessive genetic disorders. This is because closely-related individuals are more likely to carry the same recessive genes. While the risk increase is relatively small for first cousins, it can become progressively more significant with closer biological relationships.
  • Research: Studies on the offspring of first-cousin marriages indicate a slightly elevated risk of birth defects and genetic disorders, roughly comparable to the risks faced by a woman who gives birth in her early forties.

Arguments For and Against Cousin Marriage

Arguments in Favor

  • Personal Liberty: Some people believe that laws prohibiting cousin marriage infringe on individual freedom and the right to choose one’s spouse.
  • Cultural Tradition: In cultures where cousin marriage is accepted, it’s seen as a means of strengthening family bonds and preserving traditions.
  • Familial Compatibility: Advocates may argue that cousins often know each other well and may have compatible personalities and values.

Arguments Against

  • Genetic Risks: The primary argument against cousin marriage centers around the increased likelihood of recessive genetic disorders in offspring.
  • Social Stigma: In some societies, cousin marriage may carry a negative social stigma.
  • Ethical Concerns: Some individuals raise ethical concerns about the potential for power imbalances or pressure within families that could lead to cousin marriages.

Nebraska-Specific Resources and Support

If you’re a resident of Nebraska and have questions or concerns about cousin marriage, here are some resources:

  • Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services: Provides information on marriage laws and regulations in the state. Their website offers resources on genetic counseling as well. (https://dhhs.ne.gov/)
  • Genetic Counselors in Nebraska: Genetic counselors can help couples understand the potential risks associated with cousin marriage and make informed decisions. You can find genetic counselors in cities like Omaha and Lincoln.

Public Opinion on Cousin Marriage in Nebraska

While Nebraska law clearly prohibits first-cousin marriage, it’s worth considering how Nebraskans themselves generally view the practice. Unfortunately, there isn’t extensive recent data on public opinion regarding cousin marriage specifically within Nebraska. However, some broader insights can be drawn:

  • National Trends: National polls suggest that a majority of Americans view cousin marriage as morally wrong or unacceptable.
  • Conservative Values: Nebraska, being a generally conservative state, may reflect a somewhat stronger sentiment against cousin marriage compared to more liberal areas of the country.

Alternative Options for Cousins in Nebraska

If you are in a relationship with your first cousin in Nebraska and wish to be together, here are some options to consider:

  • Long-term Committed Relationship: Couples can choose to build a life together without a formal marriage. Nebraska recognizes common-law marriages under specific circumstances, but these have strict requirements. It’s advisable to consult with an attorney.
  • Residency in Another State: If marriage is a priority, the couple could establish residency in a state where cousin marriage is legal. It’s important to research the specific laws and residency requirements of the chosen state.
  • Advocacy: Individuals who feel strongly about the right to marry their cousin might consider engaging in advocacy efforts to change Nebraska law. This could involve contacting state representatives or joining organizations that support changes in marriage laws.

The Evolving Debate

The legality and social acceptance of cousin marriage are part of an ongoing debate influenced by factors like cultural shifts, scientific understanding, and individual rights arguments. Here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Medical Advances: Progress in genetic screening and counseling may offer couples more comprehensive information about risks, potentially influencing future attitudes towards cousin marriage.
  • Emphasis on Individual Choice: There’s a growing trend towards respecting individual choices in personal matters, which could eventually extend to marriage laws.
  • Global Influence: As the world becomes more interconnected, exposure to different cultural norms might gradually change perceptions of cousin marriage.

Important Note: It is crucial to reiterate that Nebraska law currently prohibits marriages between first cousins. Before making any major life decisions, seeking legal counsel from licensed attorneys familiar with Nebraska’s marriage laws is highly recommended.

Sources

Here are some reliable sources used in writing this article, along with others you may find helpful for further research:

Conclusion

The legality of cousin marriage in Nebraska is a complex issue with legal, cultural, scientific, and ethical dimensions. While the state currently prohibits such unions, it’s important to understand the diverse perspectives surrounding this topic and acknowledge that the debate may continue to evolve in the future.

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MBS Staff
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