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

The question of whether it is legal to marry one’s cousin has been a source of curiosity and debate for centuries. Cultural practices, religious beliefs, and scientific concerns all influence the complex discussion around cousin marriage. Laws vary greatly amongst countries and even within the United States, each state has its own regulations. In this article, we will specifically delve into the legality of cousin marriage within the state of Arkansas.

Arkansas Cousin Marriage Laws

Arkansas law has a nuanced approach toward cousin marriage. Here’s the breakdown:

  • First Cousins: Marriages between first cousins (those who share a set of grandparents) are explicitly prohibited in Arkansas.
  • First Cousins Once Removed and Beyond: Marriages between more distant relatives, such as first cousins once removed (those who share a great-grandparent), are legally permitted in Arkansas.

Genetic Considerations

One of the principal concerns surrounding cousin marriage is the potential increase in the risk of birth defects or genetic disorders in offspring. This is because close relatives share more genetic material, increasing the likelihood of both partners carrying recessive genes for the same undesirable traits.

While it’s important to acknowledge the potential genetic risks, it’s worth noting the following:

  • Risk Increase is Modest: The overall risk of birth defects for children of first cousins is slightly higher than the general population, but still relatively low. Most studies suggest the risk increases by approximately 2-3%.
  • Individualized Assessment: Genetic counseling can be valuable for couples considering cousin marriage to get a more personalized risk assessment based on their family history and health background.
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The Debate Around Cousin Marriage

The legality of cousin marriage sparks ongoing societal debate. Here’s a look at some prominent arguments on both sides:

Arguments in Favor:

  • Personal Liberty: Supporters believe that adults should have the freedom to marry whomever they choose, regardless of familial ties.
  • Cultural Acceptance: In some cultures, cousin marriage has been a tradition for generations and holds significance within specific communities.

Arguments Against:

  • Genetic Concerns: The primary opposition stems from the potential for increased risks of birth defects and genetic disorders in the offspring.
  • Societal Concerns: Some argue that legalizing cousin marriage could lead to a blurring of familial boundaries and potentially create complex familial relationships.

Alternatives Considered in Arkansas

While Arkansas law prohibits first-cousin marriages, there may be some exceptions or alternative pathways:

  • Older Age: Further research into Arkansas statutes is needed to determine if age-related exceptions exist, as seen in some other states.
  • Crossing State Lines: Couples can pursue marriage in a neighboring state where cousin marriage is legal, although they should be aware of potential residency requirements.


Arkansas law takes a middle-ground approach on cousin marriage, prohibiting unions between first cousins while allowing more distant relatives to marry. Understanding the legal parameters is crucial for anyone considering marrying their cousin in Arkansas. It’s essential to weigh the ethical, cultural, and potential health implications involved in such a decision. The potential for legislative change in Arkansas means staying informed about the evolving legal landscape regarding cousin marriage is wise.

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