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

The legality of marrying your cousin is a complex topic that sparks debate across ethical, social, and legal spheres. While marrying close relatives often carries social stigma or religious prohibitions, the laws surrounding cousin marriage vary greatly between countries and even between individual states within the US. This article explores the legal status of cousin marriage specifically in the state of Maryland.

Maryland’s Stance on Cousin Marriage

Maryland is one of the states in the US where cousin marriage is legal. More specifically, the state permits first cousins to marry without any restrictions. It’s important to note that while Maryland has relatively relaxed laws in this aspect, marriage between closer relatives like siblings, parents and children, or grandparents and grandchildren is strictly prohibited.

Historical Context

Historically, cousin marriage was a common practice worldwide, primarily in more traditional societies. Reasons included strengthening family ties, keeping property within the family, and political alliances. In some cultures, cousin marriage might even be socially preferred.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, many US states imposed bans on cousin marriage fueled by concerns regarding genetic risks to offspring. However, scientific opinions on these risks have evolved over time, leading some states to relax their restrictions on cousin marriage.

Potential Genetic Risks

One of the primary concerns related to cousin marriage is the possibility of increased genetic risks for potential children. When close relatives reproduce, the likelihood of passing on recessive genes that cause genetic disorders increases. The approximate risk for children born to first cousins ranges from 4-7%, compared to the 3-4% risk seen in the general population.

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Some common genetic disorders that might see a higher incidence with cousin marriage include:

  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Tay-Sachs disease
  • Thalassemia

However, it’s essential to note that the overall risk remains relatively low, and most children born to first cousins will be completely healthy.

Genetic Counseling Requirements

Maryland recognizes the potential for genetic risks associated with cousin marriage. Therefore, the state requires first cousins who intend to marry to obtain genetic counseling. This counseling aims to:

  • Educate couples about the possible risks to their offspring
  • Assess the risks based on the couple’s specific family history
  • Provide options with reproductive specialists if further testing or screening is desired

Social and Ethical Considerations

Beyond the legal and genetic aspects, cousin marriage raises various social and ethical questions.

  • Social Stigma: In some societies, cousin marriage carries social disapproval or stigma. Couples might face judgment or ostracization by family or community members.
  • Religious Considerations: Religious beliefs can strongly influence an individual’s views on marrying close relatives. Some faiths expressly forbid cousin marriage, while others accept or even encourage it.
  • Personal Choice: The decision to marry a cousin is ultimately a deeply personal one. Couples may have their own reasons for choosing this path, and their autonomy should be respected so long as it is legal.

Alternatives and Resources for Couples

Couples considering a cousin marriage have options available to them:

  • Genetic Testing: Couples concerned about specific genetic disorders might opt for pre-pregnancy genetic testing by a genetic specialist. This testing allows them to make informed decisions about their family planning.
  • Adoption: If the desire for a child supersedes the wish to be genetically related, adoption provides a wonderful way to build a family.
  • Other Relationships: Individuals seeking partners can explore romantic relationships outside their immediate family.
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Maryland is one of several US states that permit marriage between first cousins. While there are concerns about potential genetic risks, the state mandates genetic counseling to help couples make informed decisions. The choice of whether or not to marry a cousin involves complex social, ethical, and personal factors that should be carefully considered alongside the legal guidelines. Ultimately, with informed consent, couples in Maryland have the autonomy to make this deeply personal decision.

FAQs: Cousin Marriage in Maryland

Q: Is it legal to marry my first cousin in Maryland? A: Yes, it is legal to marry your first cousin in Maryland. The state does not impose any restrictions on marriage between first cousins.

Q: Are there any special requirements for first cousins who want to get married in Maryland? A: Yes. Maryland law requires first cousins seeking to marry to undergo genetic counseling. This counseling educates couples about potential genetic risks and helps them make informed decisions.

Q: What are the potential genetic risks of marrying my cousin? A: Children born to first cousins have a slightly increased risk (4-7%) of developing birth defects or genetic disorders compared to the general population (3-4% risk). It’s important to consult a genetic counselor to understand the risks specific to your family history.

Q: Is it mandatory for my cousin and me to have children if we get married? A: Absolutely not. The decision to have children is entirely yours and your partner’s. You may choose to explore other options like adoption or decide not to have children at all.

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Q: Are there social or religious implications to consider if I marry my cousin? A: Yes. Cousin marriage might be met with social disapproval in some communities. It’s also important to consider any religious beliefs you or your family may hold, as some religions have specific stances on marriages between relatives.

Q: Where can I find more information about cousin marriage in Maryland? A: Here are some helpful resources:

  • Maryland’s Family Law Code: ([invalid URL removed])
  • National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC): ( – You can use their “Find a Genetic Counselor” tool.
  • Your local health department: They may have information and resources about genetic counseling services.

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