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

The concept of marrying one’s cousin evokes a wide range of reactions, with opinions split over its morality and legality. While cousin marriage is historically and culturally significant in some parts of the world, it’s often a controversial topic in Western societies. In the United States, individual state laws govern cousin marriages. This article dives into the specifics of Illinois law regarding cousin marriage, examining the legal complexities and social implications.

Illinois Law on Cousin Marriage

In Illinois, the law regarding cousin marriage is nuanced. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Restrictions and Exceptions: Illinois law generally prohibits marriage between first cousins. However, an exception is made if both parties meet one of these conditions:
    • Age: Both individuals are 50 years of age or older.
    • Sterility: One of the individuals is permanently and irreversibly sterile.
  • Certification of Sterility: If one individual claims sterility, a licensed physician must provide written certification verifying this condition. This certification must be presented when applying for a marriage license.

Historical and Cultural Context of Cousin Marriage

While less prevalent now, cousin marriage has been historically common in various societies and cultures:

  • Historical Prevalence: Throughout history, cousin marriages occurred for numerous reasons:
    • Preservation of wealth and power within families
    • Strengthening social and political alliances
    • Maintaining cultural and religious traditions
  • Cultural and Religious Influences: Some cultures and religions may view cousin marriage more favorably or even encourage it. However, many other societies discourage or prohibit cousin marriages due to potential social and genetic concerns
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Scientific and Genetic Considerations

One of the main arguments against cousin marriage centers on the potential for health risks to offspring.

  • Increased Risk of Genetic Disorders: Children born to first cousins share a greater percentage of DNA. This increases the likelihood of passing on recessive genes responsible for various genetic disorders.
  • Arguments Against Genetic Concerns: Proponents of cousin marriage often downplay the genetic risks, emphasizing:
    • The relatively small increase in risk compared to unrelated couples.
    • The availability of genetic counseling and screening to identify potential complications.

Ethical and Social Implications

The issue of cousin marriage raises significant ethical and social questions:

  • Social Stigma and Taboos: In many Western societies, cousin marriage carries a significant social stigma and may be considered a taboo subject.
  • Personal Choice and Family Dynamics: Individuals who choose to marry their cousins may face challenges within their families and broader society. However, advocates for cousin marriage often stress the autonomy of adults making informed choices about their relationships.

Comparing Illinois with Other States

The legality of cousin marriage varies significantly across the United States:

  • States Allowing Cousin Marriage: Many states permit cousin marriages without restrictions.
  • States with Restrictions: Other states, like Illinois, have age or sterility requirements.
  • States Banning Cousin Marriage: Some states entirely prohibit cousin marriage.


The legality of cousin marriage in Illinois reveals a complex landscape where legal considerations intersect with historical, cultural, scientific, and ethical debates. While Illinois law imposes some restrictions, the issue raises vital questions about personal choice, genetic risk, and the role of societal norms in shaping family structures. Ultimately, a deeper understanding of the various aspects surrounding cousin marriage is crucial for informed discussions and decision-making.

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