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

Family bonds are a cornerstone of society, shaping our values, upbringing, and sense of belonging. But what happens when these familial connections take an unexpected turn? In some parts of the world, cousin relationships extend beyond friendship and can blossom into romantic partnerships, even marriage. However, the legal and social acceptance of such unions varies greatly across the United States. This article delves into the specific situation of Tennessee, exploring the question: Is it illegal to date your cousin in Tennessee?

Current Legal Landscape in Tennessee

As of today (May 20, 2024), dating your cousin in Tennessee is perfectly legal. There are no state laws prohibiting romantic relationships between first cousins, or any other degree of cousins for that matter. This aligns with Tennessee’s current stance on marriage. However, the legal landscape regarding cousin marriage in Tennessee might be undergoing a shift.

In 2023, a bill was introduced in the Tennessee state legislature that would effectively ban marriage between first cousins. The proposed legislation defines such unions as those between “lineal descendants of a grandparent,” essentially referring to individuals who share a common grandparent. The bill passed the state House with a significant majority but awaits the decision of Governor Bill Lee, who has not yet indicated whether he will sign it into law.

Potential Impacts of a Cousin Marriage Ban

The potential ban on cousin marriage in Tennessee has sparked debate, with arguments on both sides. One of the primary concerns surrounding cousin marriage centers on public health. When close relatives marry and have children, there’s an increased risk of passing on certain genetic conditions. These conditions can arise from recessive genes, which typically remain hidden unless inherited from both parents. Since cousins share a significant amount of DNA, the chance of both carrying the same recessive gene for a particular disorder becomes higher. This can lead to a greater likelihood of their children inheriting these conditions.

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However, it’s important to note that this risk is not absolute and can be mitigated. Studies suggest the actual increase in risk for children of cousin marriages is relatively small, somewhere around 2-5% compared to the general population. Additionally, genetic counseling can play a crucial role in assessing potential risks and making informed decisions.

The proposed ban also raises questions about cultural and religious considerations. Cousin marriage is a practice observed in certain cultures and religious communities. For some, it strengthens family ties and facilitates social cohesion within the community. A ban on such marriages could be seen as an infringement on cultural and religious freedoms.

Legal Landscape in Other States

Tennessee is not alone in navigating the legal complexities of cousin marriage. Across the United States, there’s a patchwork of laws governing these relationships. In 17 states, including California, New York, and Florida, cousin marriage remains completely legal with no restrictions. Some states, like Maine and Mississippi, allow cousin marriage with specific limitations, such as requiring genetic counseling or imposing age restrictions. On the other end of the spectrum, a handful of states, including Arkansas and Delaware, have outright bans on cousin marriage.

Considerations for Dating a Cousin (Regardless of Legality)

Even in states where dating and marrying a cousin are legal, there are important considerations for couples navigating this path. Genetic counseling is highly recommended before taking a serious step towards marriage and children. A Genetic counseling can assess the couple’s individual carrier status for specific genetic disorders and calculate the potential risk of their offspring inheriting those conditions. This information empowers couples to make informed choices about their future family planning.

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Another significant factor to consider is family dynamics. Dating a cousin can introduce complexities within the family structure. Jealousy or disapproval from siblings or other close relatives can arise. Open communication and sensitivity towards family members are crucial for navigating these potential challenges.

Social stigma surrounding cousin relationships is another reality to acknowledge. While societal attitudes are evolving, some people might hold negative views towards cousin relationships. Couples navigating this path should be prepared to potentially encounter disapproval or judgment from certain social circles.

Finding Support and Resources

For individuals contemplating a relationship with a cousin, seeking support and resources can be invaluable. Support groups or online communities specifically for individuals in cousin relationships can offer a safe space to connect with others who understand the unique dynamics involved. Additionally, mental health professionals can provide guidance on navigating potential family conflicts and managing social stigma.


The legality of dating and marrying a cousin in Tennessee remains in a state of flux. While currently legal, a proposed bill might soon change the landscape. The issue of cousin marriage is complex, encompassing public health concerns, cultural and religious considerations, and individual choices. Couples navigating cousin relationships, regardless of location, should carefully weigh potential risks and complexities. Genetic counseling, open communication with family, and seeking support from relevant resources can play a vital role in making informed decisions for a fulfilling future.

Final Thought

Ultimately, the decision to pursue a relationship with a cousin is a personal one. There’s no single “right” answer, and individual circumstances play a significant role. By acknowledging the legal landscape, potential challenges, and available resources, couples can navigate this path with greater clarity and confidence.

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