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

The question of whether it’s legal to marry your cousin arises from time to time, often surrounded by social taboos, scientific concerns, and varying laws in different parts of the world. In the United States, the legality of cousin marriages falls under the jurisdiction of individual states. In this article, we’ll delve into the specific laws regarding cousin marriages in Nebraska.

Nebraska’s Law on Cousin Marriage

Nebraska law explicitly prohibits marriages between first cousins. Nebraska Revised Statute Section 42-103 states:

“No marriage shall be contracted… between persons who are nearer of kin than second cousins, whether of the whole or half-blood, computing by the rules of the civil law…”

This law means that individuals who share a set of grandparents (first cousins) cannot legally marry in the state of Nebraska.

Historical and Cultural Perspectives on Cousin Marriage

Historically, cousin marriages have been practiced in various cultures around the world for different reasons, including:

  • Maintaining Family Traditions: In some societies, cousin marriage has been a way to keep wealth, property, or power within a family.
  • Strengthening Social Bonds: Marriages between cousins can create closer ties between extended family members.
  • Geographic or Cultural Isolation: In smaller or isolated communities, there may be limited options for marriage partners outside the family.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States, cousin marriages were relatively common. However, a shift in public opinion occurred in the latter part of the 19th century when concerns about potential genetic risks began to surface.

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Genetic Considerations

The primary concern surrounding cousin marriage is the increased risk of passing on recessive genetic disorders to offspring. All individuals carry some recessive genes that don’t cause issues unless both parents pass on the same recessive gene to the child. Close relatives are more likely to share these recessive genes, increasing the risk of genetic disorders in their children.

While the risk is relatively low overall, studies indicate that children of first-cousin marriages have a slightly elevated chance of birth defects and genetic disorders compared to children of unrelated parents.

Arguments for and Against Cousin Marriage

Arguments in Favor:

  • Personal Liberty: Some people argue that the government should not restrict the right of consenting adults to marry, regardless of their familial relationship.
  • Cultural Tradition: In cultures where cousin marriage is accepted, proponents may defend the practice based on tradition and family values.

Arguments Against:

  • Potential Genetic Risks: The primary concern focuses on the increased likelihood of recessive genetic disorders in the offspring of close relatives.
  • Social Stigma: In many Western societies, cousin marriage is associated with social taboo and negative stereotypes.

Alternatives to Cousin Marriage

For couples who are closely related and wish to start a family, there are alternatives to consider:

  • Genetic Counseling: Consulting a genetic counselor can help couples understand their specific risks and make informed decisions about family planning.
  • Adoption: Adopting a child offers a way to create a family and provide a loving home.
  • In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) with Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD): This technology enables couples to screen embryos for specific genetic disorders before implantation.
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Conclusion

Nebraska law falls in line with many US states in prohibiting marriage between first cousins. The primary reasoning behind this law is the potential increased risk for genetic disorders in their offspring. While the issue of cousin marriage evokes strong opinions, it’s essential to be aware of the legal restrictions, scientific concerns, and the personal and cultural considerations involved.

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