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

The concept of marrying one’s cousin evokes a range of reactions, from curiosity to disapproval. While historically common in many cultures, the legality and social acceptance of cousin marriage vary widely across the globe and even within the United States. New Hampshire has specific laws concerning marriage eligibility, so let’s explore what the law says about cousin marriage within the state.

New Hampshire Cousin Marriage Laws

New Hampshire law explicitly addresses the issue of cousin marriage. The relevant statute is found in the New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated (RSA) Chapter 457: Marriages. Specifically, RSA 457:3 states:

  • “No man shall marry his… first cousin…”
  • “No woman shall marry her… first cousin…”

This language clearly prohibits marriages between first cousins in the state of New Hampshire.

Arguments For and Against Cousin Marriage

The debate surrounding cousin marriage often centers on biological concerns and social/ethical considerations.

Biological Concerns

  • Increased Risk of Genetic Disorders: The primary argument against cousin marriage is the increased risk of passing on recessive genetic disorders to offspring. Close relatives share a greater percentage of their DNA, increasing the likelihood that both parents could carry a recessive gene for the same disorder.
  • Debate on Risk Severity: While the risk is increased, there is debate about how significant that increase is. Some studies suggest the risk of birth defects in children of first cousins is only slightly higher than the general population. Others argue the risks are more substantial.
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Social and Ethical Considerations

  • Taboo and Societal Perceptions: In many Western societies, cousin marriage carries a social stigma or is considered taboo. This can lead to negative judgment or social isolation for couples who choose to marry their cousins.
  • Personal Liberty and Choice: Supporters of cousin marriage rights argue that adults should have the freedom to make their own choices about marriage and that government restrictions on cousin marriage infringe upon personal liberty.

Prevalence of Cousin Marriage

  • Statistics in the US: Currently, approximately half of the US states prohibit first-cousin marriage, while the other half allow it, often with certain restrictions in place.
  • Global Trends: Cousin marriage is more common in certain parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Asia, where it can be a deeply ingrained cultural tradition.

Alternatives to Cousin Marriage

  • Genetic Counseling: Couples concerned about the potential genetic risks of cousin marriage can seek genetic counseling. Counselors can assess individual risk factors and provide information to help couples make informed decisions about family planning.
  • Widening the Pool: Individuals open to the idea might consider expanding their dating and marriage pool beyond their immediate family circle. This can reduce genetic risks and potentially broaden social and cultural experiences.

Conclusion

In New Hampshire, the law is clear: first-cousin marriages are prohibited. The debate surrounding cousin marriage is complex, encompassing biological concerns, social norms, and arguments about individual freedom. It’s essential for individuals considering cousin marriage to be aware of both the potential risks and the legal restrictions in their state.

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