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

The concept of marrying a cousin might seem strange or even taboo to some, but it’s a practice observed in various cultures throughout history. In the United States, the legality of cousin marriage varies from state to state. While some states prohibit it, others, like Tennessee, allow it under certain conditions. This article examines the legal intricacies surrounding cousin marriage in Tennessee.

Tennessee Laws on Cousin Marriage

Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-3-101 explicitly states that “marriage between first cousins is not prohibited.” This indicates that first cousins are legally permitted to marry in the state of Tennessee. Importantly, the law only applies to first cousins, meaning the children of siblings. Marriages between closer relatives, such as siblings or parents and children, remain illegal in Tennessee.

Historical and Cultural Background of Cousin Marriage

Historically, cousin marriage was common in many societies worldwide. Several factors contributed to its prevalence:

  • Economic Stability: Marrying within the family was often seen as a way to preserve wealth and property.
  • Social Cohesion: Cousin marriage helped strengthen family ties and maintain community traditions.
  • Geographic Limitations: In smaller or isolated communities, the pool of potential spouses outside the family might have been limited.

Famous historical figures who married their cousins include:

  • Charles Darwin: Married his first cousin Emma Wedgwood.
  • Albert Einstein: Married his maternal first cousin and paternal second cousin, Elsa Einstein.
  • Queen Victoria: Married her first cousin Prince Albert.

In recent decades, the practice of cousin marriage has seen a decline in Western societies. However, it continues to be observed in parts of the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

Arguments For and Against Cousin Marriage

The debate around cousin marriage is complex, encompassing both genetic and socio-ethical dimensions.

Arguments Against Cousin Marriage

  • Genetic Risks: The primary argument against cousin marriage centers on the increased potential for genetic disorders in offspring. Couples who are closely related share a higher proportion of genes, increasing the likelihood that both will carry the same recessive genes for a disorder. This, in turn, increases the chance of their children inheriting two copies of the recessive gene, leading to conditions such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, or developmental disabilities. While the overall risk remains relatively low, it is higher than for couples who are less closely related.
  • Social and Ethical Concerns: Some view cousin marriage as morally unacceptable. Opponents may argue that it violates social norms, promotes unhealthy family dynamics, or risks social stigmatization.

Arguments in Favor of Cousin Marriage

  • Personal Liberty: Proponents of cousin marriage argue that consenting adults should have the freedom to decide who they marry, regardless of familial relationships. This perspective prioritizes individual autonomy.
  • Cultural Preservation: In some cultures, cousin marriage plays a significant role in upholding long-standing traditions and strengthening kinship bonds.

Steps to Take If Considering a Cousin Marriage in Tennessee

If you and your first cousin living in Tennessee are considering marriage, it is advisable to consider the following:

  • Genetic Counseling: Consulting a genetic counselor is crucial. They can assess the specific risks of genetic disorders based on your family histories and provide guidance on prenatal testing options.
  • Seeking Legal Advice: While the law allows it, navigating the legal paperwork associated with a cousin marriage can be complex. An attorney specializing in family law can provide guidance.
  • Preparing for Potential Social Response: It’s important to be aware that not everyone will be accepting of cousin marriage. Be prepared to address questions and concerns, and perhaps manage social judgment.

Alternatives to Cousin Marriage

If you and your cousin ultimately decide against pursuing a marriage, there are several alternatives to consider:

  • Maintaining a Close Relationship: Even without a marriage, you and your cousin can still cherish and maintain a strong bond as family members. Prioritize shared experiences, mutual support, and respect, which are the hallmarks of a healthy, familial relationship.
  • Exploring Other Romantic Options: If both of you are open to finding romantic partners outside of the family, broadening your social circles may lead to fulfilling relationships with individuals who are not relatives.
  • Commitment Ceremony: Consider holding a commitment ceremony to celebrate your love and commitment without entering a legal marriage. This can be a meaningful way to publicly acknowledge your bond and receive support from loved ones.


The decision of whether or not to marry your cousin is personal and complex. Tennessee law permits first-cousin marriages, but weighing the potential risks and benefits is crucial. Seeking professional guidance, considering alternatives, and upholding individual autonomy are essential components of making an informed choice.


Important Disclaimer

The information provided in this article is not a substitute for obtaining professional medical, legal, or counseling advice. You are strongly encouraged to consult with experts in their respective fields to make informed decisions regarding your specific situation.

Avatar photo
MBS Staff
Articles: 5280

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *