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

The legality of marrying your cousin is a complex topic that varies across different states and countries. While some cultures have a history of cousin marriage, it raises questions about potential genetic risks and varying societal or religious norms. In the United States, the laws regarding cousin marriage differ from state to state. Let’s delve into the specifics regarding Nevada’s stance on this issue.

Cousin Marriage: Definition and Types

To understand the laws surrounding cousin marriage, it’s crucial first to define the different types of cousins:

  • First Cousins: Individuals who share a set of grandparents.
  • Second Cousins: Individuals who share a set of great-grandparents.
  • Third Cousins: Individuals who share a set of great-great-grandparents.
  • Distant cousins: Individuals who share a common ancestor further back in their family tree.

Nevada Law on Cousin Marriage

Nevada is among the states in the US that permit marriages between cousins. Specifically, Nevada Revised Statute (NRS) 122.020 addresses prohibited marriages.

Relevant Portions of NRS 122.020:

  • “Persons being within the degrees of consanguinity within which marriages are declared by this section to be incestuous and void, who intermarry with each other, or who commit fornication or adultery with each other…”
  • Nevada law does NOT define first cousins (or more distant cousins) as being within the prohibited degrees of relationship.

Key Takeaways:

  • Nevada permits marriages between first cousins.
  • Nevada allows marriages between second cousins, third cousins, and other more distant cousins.
  • Nevada does have restrictions on marriages between close relatives like parents and children, or siblings.

Historical and Cultural Context

  • History: Historically, cousin marriage was a common practice in many cultures around the world, including European royalty. It was often seen as a way of consolidating wealth, power, and strengthening family ties.
  • Changing Views: In recent times, views on cousin marriage have shifted in many Western societies. Concerns around genetic risks and social taboos have contributed to its decline.
  • Varying Cultural Perspectives: Different cultures continue to hold diverse perspectives on cousin marriage. In some communities, it’s still a socially accepted practice.

Genetic Considerations

One of the significant concerns raised about cousin marriage is the potential for increased risks of genetic disorders in offspring.

  • Shared Genes: Close relatives, including first cousins, share a greater percentage of their genes compared to unrelated individuals. This increases the likelihood that both partners carry recessive genes for the same disorder.
  • Increased Risks: Studies suggest that children born to first-cousin couples have a slightly higher risk of birth defects and genetic disorders compared to children of unrelated parents. However, the overall risk remains relatively low.
  • Counterarguments: Some proponents of cousin marriage argue that the genetic risks are often overstated and that pre-marital genetic counseling can help couples make informed decisions.

Societal and Ethical Debates

The issue of cousin marriage sparks a range of societal and ethical discussions. Here’s an overview of the key arguments:

Arguments in Favor of Cousin Marriage

  • Personal Liberty: Supporters believe that adults should have the freedom to marry whomever they choose, including their cousins, as long as both parties are consenting.
  • Cultural Tradition: In some communities, cousin marriage is deeply rooted in cultural traditions and plays a significant social role.
  • Strengthened Family Bonds: Marriages within extended families can reinforce familial ties and provide a strong support network.

Arguments Against Cousin Marriage

  • Social Stigma: In many Western societies, including parts of the United States, there’s social stigma attached to marrying a cousin.
  • Health Concerns: While the overall risk of genetic disorders is relatively low, the potential for increased health risks in children raises concerns for some.
  • Moral Objections: Some individuals have moral objections to cousin marriage due to religious beliefs or societal norms.

Case Studies and Examples

  • Utah: Neighboring state Utah prohibits first-cousin marriages. Some Utah residents seeking to marry their cousins have traveled to Nevada or Colorado (which also permits first cousin marriage) to get married.
  • Famous Examples: Historically, notable figures like Charles Darwin, Edgar Allan Poe, and Albert Einstein married their first cousins.

The Role of Genetic Counseling

Genetic counseling can provide crucial information and guidance for couples considering cousin marriage.

  • Risk Assessment: Genetic counselors can assess a couple’s family history and identify potential risks for recessive genetic disorders.
  • Informed Decision-Making: Counseling empowers couples to make informed choices about their reproductive health and family planning.
  • Available Resources: Organizations like the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) can help individuals find qualified genetic counselors in their area.

Where to Find Reliable Information

If you’re seeking further information or guidance about cousin marriage in Nevada, consider the following resources:

  • State of Nevada Websites: The official websites for the state of Nevada ([invalid URL removed]) likely provide relevant sections on marriage laws and regulations. You might find the information on the Secretary of State’s website.
  • Legal Counsel: Consult an attorney specializing in family law in Nevada for personalized legal advice regarding marriage regulations and any potential legal implications of cousin marriage.
  • National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC): Find a certified genetic counselor through the NSGC website ( to discuss the genetic implications of cousin marriage, if relevant.


The legality of cousin marriage in Nevada highlights the complex interplay between law, culture, genetics, and personal beliefs. While Nevada permits marriages between cousins, individuals considering such unions should weigh the potential benefits, risks, and societal considerations. Seeking legal advice and genetic counseling can ensure couples make well-informed decisions that align with their values and family planning goals.

Important Disclaimer: This article provides general information about cousin marriage and Nevada law. It should not be interpreted as legal advice. Always consult with a qualified attorney in your jurisdiction for specific guidance on your individual circumstances.

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MBS Staff
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