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

The idea of marrying a first cousin might seem strange or even taboo in many Western societies. However, the practice carries different connotations around the world and even has legal standing in some parts of the United States. New Jersey is one such state, raising questions about the legality, ethics, and implications of cousin marriage.

Cousin Marriage: A Global Perspective

Historically, cousin marriages have been prevalent in many cultures around the globe. Regions like the Middle East, South Asia, and parts of Africa see high rates of consanguineous marriages (marriages between blood relatives). Motivations for such unions have included maintaining family wealth and lineage, strengthening social ties, and religious beliefs.

While cousin marriage is less common in the West, it has been practiced for centuries in some European royal families and certain immigrant communities. However, changing social norms and concerns about potential genetic risks have led to a decline in its prevalence.

Cousin Marriage Laws in the United States

The United States presents a patchwork of laws when it comes to cousin marriage:

  • Fully Permitted: Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia allow first-cousin marriage without restrictions.
  • Permitted with Conditions: Six states allow first-cousin marriages with stipulations, often relating to age (e.g., over 50 or 65) or the inability of one or both partners to reproduce.
  • Prohibited: 25 states explicitly ban marriage between first cousins.

These variations in legislation stem from a combination of factors, including historical practices, concerns about genetic risks, and evolving social attitudes.

The Case of New Jersey

New Jersey falls into the category of states where first-cousin marriages are fully legal. The New Jersey Statutes Title 37, Chapter 1 explicitly outlines prohibited marital unions:

  • 37:1-1 Certain marriages or civil unions prohibited “A man shall not marry his mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, son’s daughter, daughter’s daughter, sister’s daughter, brother’s daughter, aunt on his father’s side, aunt on his mother’s side, uncle’s wife, brother’s wife, wife’s mother, wife’s grandmother, wife’s daughter, wife’s granddaughter, wife’s sister’s daughter, or wife’s brother’s daughter…”

Since first cousins are not included in this list, marriages between them are considered legal in the state.

Arguments for and Against Cousin Marriage

The debate surrounding cousin marriage often centers on the following points:

Arguments Against:

  • Increased Genetic Risks: Children born from first-cousin marriages have a slightly elevated risk of inheriting recessive genetic disorders. This risk, while small for an individual couple, increases with consecutive generations of consanguineous marriages.
  • Social Stigma: In many Western societies, cousin marriage carries a negative stigma and can lead to social disapproval.

Arguments For:

  • Personal Liberty: Supporters argue that adults should have the freedom to marry whomever they choose, regardless of familial ties.
  • Cultural Traditions: Cousin marriage is an accepted and valued practice in some cultures, and laws against it can be seen as disrespectful.

The Ongoing Debate

Despite New Jersey’s permissive stance on cousin marriage, the topic remains a subject of ongoing discussion and evolving public opinion. Here are some key aspects of the debate:

  • Medical Concerns: While the increased risk of genetic disorders in offspring of cousin marriages is acknowledged, advances in genetic screening and counseling can mitigate some of these risks.
  • Shifting Social Attitudes: Increased cultural exchange and a focus on individual choice are gradually making cousin marriage less taboo, especially among younger generations in some communities.
  • The Role of Law: There’s an ongoing argument about whether the government should intervene in personal choices regarding marriage, especially when the risks involved can be managed through informed decision-making.


The legality of first-cousin marriage in New Jersey reflects a complex interplay between cultural norms, individual rights, and concerns about potential health implications. While the practice might be unusual in some circles, it remains a legally permissible option in the state.

Here are some important takeaways for readers:

  • Laws and attitudes towards cousin marriage vary widely across the world and even within the United States.
  • There are both potential risks and arguments in favor of cousin marriage, highlighting the complexities of the issue.
  • It’s essential for individuals considering cousin marriage to be aware of the potential genetic risks and to seek genetic counseling if necessary.
  • The debate around cousin marriage is likely to continue as society grapples with issues of personal freedom, tradition, and medical concerns.


Note: This article aims to provide information and promote understanding. It does not offer any advice on whether or not individuals should pursue cousin marriage.

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MBS Staff
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