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

The concept of marrying one’s cousin evokes a wide range of reactions – some find it peculiar, others view it as taboo, while some cultures have historically embraced the practice. Beyond personal opinions, the legality of cousin marriage varies significantly between different states and countries. In North Carolina, the law takes a specific stance on the issue. This article explores the legal framework, historical context, and potential ramifications of cousin marriage in North Carolina.

North Carolina Law on Cousin Marriage

  • Current Legal Standing: North Carolina law permits the marriage of first cousins. This means that individuals who share a set of grandparents are legally allowed to wed in the state.
  • Specific Statutes: The relevant statute is North Carolina General Statute § 51-3, which outlines prohibited marriages. It specifically states that marriages between first cousins are not included in the list of prohibited relationships.

Historical Background

  • Changing Perspectives: Historically, cousin marriage was more commonplace in the United States, including in North Carolina. However, during the 19th and early 20th centuries, many states began to implement bans on cousin marriages.
  • Reasons for Bans: Laws prohibiting cousin marriage were often influenced by concerns about potential genetic risks to offspring, as well as social and moral objections. Eugenic movements of the time, which advocated for selective breeding to improve the human population, contributed to this sentiment.

Arguments For and Against Cousin Marriage

  • Genetic Concerns: The primary argument against cousin marriage centers on the increased risk of passing on recessive genetic disorders to children. Closely related individuals are more likely to share the same recessive genes, which can lead to a higher chance of offspring inheriting genetic diseases. However, the actual increase in risk is often debated, with some experts arguing it’s relatively small.
  • Societal and Religious Perspectives: Some societal and religious views consider cousin marriage inappropriate or taboo. These objections might stem from concerns about maintaining family dynamics, social norms, or religious doctrines.
  • Individual Choice: Proponents of cousin marriage often argue that consenting adults should have the right to marry whomever they choose, regardless of familial ties. They emphasize individual freedom and autonomy in making personal decisions.

Status of Cousin Marriage in Other States

The legality of cousin marriage varies widely across the United States.

  • States Permitting Cousin Marriage: Approximately half of US states allow first-cousin marriage. These states generally have no specific laws prohibiting such unions.
  • States Banning Cousin Marriage: Several states have explicit laws prohibiting first-cousin marriage, primarily based on concerns about genetic risks.
  • States with Restrictions: A small number of states have partial bans or certain restrictions, such as requiring genetic counseling before a marriage between first cousins can take place.


The legality of cousin marriage in North Carolina reflects an evolving landscape of laws and attitudes surrounding the concept. While concerns about potential genetic risks remain a central point of debate, arguments regarding individual choice and societal norms also play a significant role in the discussion. Understanding the specific laws of North Carolina, as well as the broader context of cousin marriage across the United States, is essential for individuals contemplating such a union.

Practical Considerations and Ethical Implications

Beyond the legal framework, there are a number of factors that couples considering cousin marriage should be mindful of:

  • Genetic Counseling: Even in states where cousin marriage is legal, it is highly advisable for couples to seek genetic counseling before making the decision to marry. Genetic counselors can assess the specific risks for potential offspring based on family history and provide guidance on reproductive options.
  • Family Dynamics: Marrying a cousin can potentially impact family relationships in complex ways. It’s important to communicate openly with family members and be prepared for a range of reactions, both positive and negative.
  • Societal Stigma: Even if cousin marriage is legal, couples may still face societal judgment or stigma. Being prepared to address potential negativity and focusing on the strength of the relationship is crucial.

The Future of Cousin Marriage Laws

The debate surrounding cousin marriage is likely to continue, both in North Carolina and nationwide. Factors that may influence future legislation include:

  • Advances in Genetic Science: Our understanding of genetics continues to evolve. As genetic testing and counseling become more sophisticated, it may provide a more nuanced perspective on the risks associated with cousin marriage.
  • Changing Social Attitudes: Societal views on family structures and relationships are constantly shifting. Increasing acceptance of diverse relationship models could potentially impact perceptions of cousin marriage.
  • Individual Rights Advocacy: Advocacy for individual freedom and choice in matters of marriage could play a role in challenging existing bans on cousin marriage.

Important Note: This article provides legal information and explores various perspectives on the issue of cousin marriage. It does not constitute medical or genetic advice. Individuals considering cousin marriage are strongly encouraged to consult with healthcare professionals and genetic counselors for personalized guidance.


  • North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 51:
  • National Conference of State Legislatures: “State Laws on Marriage Between First Cousins”
  • Bittles, Alan H. “Consanguinity in Context” (Cambridge University Press, 2012)
  • National Society of Genetic Counselors:
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MBS Staff
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