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

The question of whether it’s legal to marry your cousin might seem like something out of a movie or TV show, but it’s a genuine question that pops up surprisingly often. Cousin marriage carries social and cultural taboos in many places, but the legalities vary throughout the United States and the world. In this article, we’ll dive into the specific case of New York State.

New York Cousin Marriage Laws

  • New York State law does not explicitly prohibit marriage between first cousins.
  • The relevant statute, New York Domestic Relations Law Article 3, lists prohibited marriages:
    • Between ancestors and descendants (e.g., parent-child, grandparent-grandchild)
    • Between siblings
    • Between an aunt or uncle and their niece or nephew
  • Cousin marriages fall outside these restricted relationships.

Historical and Cultural Context

  • Historically, cousin marriages were more common in both the US and worldwide, often for reasons of keeping wealth or property within families.
  • Famous examples of cousin marriages include Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgwood, as well as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
  • Changing social values and increased scientific knowledge around genetics have led to a general decline in cousin marriages in Western societies.

Genetic Concerns

  • Children of first cousins have a slightly increased risk of birth defects and genetic disorders compared to children of unrelated parents.
  • The risk, while small, is still significant enough that many genetic counselors advise against cousin marriage, especially if there’s a family history of genetic conditions.
  • It’s important to note that the vast majority of children born to cousins are perfectly healthy.

Social and Ethical Considerations

  • Social taboos against cousin marriage exist in many cultures, including in the United States.
  • Some people view cousin marriages as morally wrong or harmful.
  • Others counter that consenting adults should have the freedom to marry whomever they choose, regardless of familial relation.

FAQs

  • Is it common to marry your cousin in New York?
    • No, it’s exceedingly uncommon. Cousin marriage is statistically rare in the US.
  • Are there other states where cousin marriage is illegal?
    • Yes, many states have laws prohibiting first-cousin marriage. You can find a state-by-state breakdown on relevant websites (see sources below).
  • What if I want to marry my cousin in New York?
    • Legally, you are allowed to do so. However, be prepared for potential social backlash or judgment. It’s advisable to consult with a genetic counselor to understand the risks involved.
  • If my cousins get married in a state where it’s legal, will New York recognize the marriage?
    • Yes, New York typically recognizes marriages valid where they were performed.

Where to Go for More Information

Conclusion

While cousin marriage is technically legal in New York, it’s a complex issue with genetic, social, and ethical facets. If you’re considering such a marriage, research the topic carefully, weigh the potential risks and benefits, and make sure your decision is well-informed.

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MBS Staff
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