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

The legality of marrying one’s cousin is a topic shrouded in social taboo, cultural variances, and scientific debate. While some cultures have historically embraced cousin marriages, many modern societies view the practice with skepticism or outright prohibition. The United States displays a patchwork of laws regarding cousin marriage, with some states permitting it and others banning the practice. Vermont falls into the category of states where cousin marriage is legal.

Cousin Marriage Laws in Vermont

Vermont state law explicitly allows first cousins to enter into marriage. Unlike some other states, there are no additional requirements, such as mandatory genetic counseling, imposed on cousins who seek to marry in Vermont. This means that first cousins in Vermont can obtain a marriage license and proceed with a wedding ceremony like any other couple.

Historical Context

Historically, the legal landscape surrounding cousin marriage in the United States was more permissive. However, a wave of laws banning cousin marriage swept across several states in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These laws were rooted in concerns around genetic risks and changing social mores. Vermont, notably, did not follow this trend, choosing to continue to allow first-cousin unions.

While there is no singular explanation for why Vermont retained its permissive law, the state’s relatively small population and historically rural nature may have played a role.

Scientific and Genetic Considerations

The primary concern surrounding cousin marriages centers on the potential increased risk of birth defects or genetic disorders in offspring. Since close relatives share a higher percentage of their DNA, there is a greater chance that both partners carry recessive genes for the same harmful conditions.

However, the exact level of risk associated with cousin marriage is a subject of debate within the scientific community. Some studies indicate a slightly elevated risk of birth defects – approximately a 4-7% chance compared to the 3-4% baseline risk for the general population. Other researchers argue that the heightened risk has been overstated and that healthy children are far more likely to result from cousin marriages.

Ethical Arguments

The debate surrounding cousin marriage goes beyond science and includes ethical and moral considerations. Proponents of cousin marriage argue that individuals should have the autonomy to marry the person they love, regardless of familial ties. They assert that bans on cousin marriage represent an unnecessary governmental intrusion into personal choice.

Opponents counter that the potential risks to offspring and the social stigma associated with cousin marriage justify restrictions. They may also express concerns about the power dynamics within families if such unions were legally sanctioned.

Vermont-Specific Considerations

Vermont’s relatively small and, in some areas, rural population might be a consideration when examining the state’s stance on cousin marriage. In smaller communities, gene pools are naturally more limited, and over time, individuals may become more distantly related.

While there are no prominent advocacy groups within Vermont explicitly supporting or opposing the law, the lack of organized opposition suggests a level of social acceptance or, at the very least, indifference to cousin marriages.

National Comparison

Vermont’s position on cousin marriage places it amongst a minority of US states. Currently, a majority of states have enacted some form of restriction against first-cousin marriages. However, states like Maine, Rhode Island, and New York follow Vermont’s more permissive approach.

It’s worth noting that even within the states that allow cousin marriages, public perception can vary. While it may be legal, cousin marriage remains unusual and carries a certain level of social stigma across much of the United States.


In the state of Vermont, it is not illegal to marry your first cousin. Vermont law does not view first-cousin relationships as inherently different from other romantic relationships for the purposes of marriage. While scientific debate continues over the exact risk of recessive genetic conditions in the children of first cousins, Vermont does not impose any special requirements upon such couples.

Whether the practice is ethically acceptable is a matter of individual perspective and ongoing societal debate. For those considering a marriage between first cousins, it’s essential to weigh the information regarding potential genetic risks, social implications, and their own personal values and familial dynamics before making a decision.

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MBS Staff
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