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

The topic of cousin marriage can spark heated debates that touch on morality, ethics, and the potential for genetic health risks. While marrying a close relative may be taboo in many cultures, it’s important to understand the legal complexities surrounding the issue. In the United States, the legality of cousin marriage varies from state to state. Let’s explore the specific laws governing cousin marriage within the state of North Carolina.

North Carolina Laws on Cousin Marriage

North Carolina is one of the states within the US that permits marriage between first cousins. The state law does not explicitly prohibit such unions. This means that if you and your partner are first cousins and wish to marry, you can legally do so in North Carolina.

What is a ‘Double First Cousin’?

A critical distinction exists within North Carolina law when it comes to cousin marriages. While first cousin marriages are legal, the state prohibits marriages between ‘double first cousins’. Double first cousins share both sets of grandparents. This situation typically arises when siblings from one family marry siblings from another family.

Understanding the Restrictions

It’s important to understand the restriction placed on double first cousin marriages. The primary reason behind this prohibition lies in the increased risk of genetic disorders that can be passed down to offspring when parents are closely related.

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Historical and Cultural Perspectives on Cousin Marriage

Throughout history, cousin marriages have been practiced in various cultures around the world. In some societies, such unions were even encouraged to strengthen family ties, consolidate wealth, or maintain cultural traditions.

Historically in the United States, cousin marriages were particularly prevalent in the past, especially in rural communities. However, changing social norms and an increased awareness of potential genetic risks have led to a decline in the practice within recent decades.

Genetic Considerations

One of the primary concerns surrounding cousin marriage centers around the increased likelihood of recessive genetic disorders. Everyone carries recessive genes, but these genes usually don’t manifest as diseases unless both parents possess the same recessive trait. Since close relatives share a higher percentage of genetic material, there’s a greater chance they both carry the same recessive genes.

While the risk of genetic disorders for children of first cousins is slightly elevated, it’s important to note that the overall risk remains relatively low. According to research, children born to first cousins face a slightly increased risk of birth defects, from roughly 3% in the general population to about 4-7%.

Ethical Dilemmas

The legality of cousin marriage often sparks ethical debates. Some argue that individuals should have the freedom to marry whomever they choose, while others express concerns about the potential for social pressure or coercion within families where cousin marriage is accepted. There are also worries about the long-term social and psychological impact on children born from these unions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Can I marry my first cousin in North Carolina? Yes, marrying your first cousin is legal in North Carolina.
  2. Can I marry my double first cousin in North Carolina? No, marriages between double first cousins are prohibited in North Carolina.
  3. What are the arguments for and against cousin marriage? Arguments in favor often emphasize individual freedom and cultural traditions, while arguments against usually focus on potential genetic risks and ethical concerns.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Are there any other restrictions on cousin marriage in North Carolina? Apart from the restriction on double first cousin marriage, North Carolina follows the general marriage laws that apply to all couples. This means that both individuals must be of legal age (18 or older, with certain exceptions for minors with parental consent), have the mental capacity to give consent, and not currently be married to anyone else.
  2. If I marry my cousin in North Carolina, will our marriage be recognized in other states? Generally, yes. While laws regarding cousin marriage differ between states, a marriage legally performed in one state is typically recognized by other states. However, it’s advisable to consult with an attorney if you have concerns about the recognition of your marriage outside of North Carolina.


The decision of whether or not to engage in a cousin marriage is a complex and personal one. North Carolina law permits first cousin marriage but prohibits marriages between double first cousins due to increased genetic risks. It’s essential for couples considering cousin marriage to carefully weigh the potential implications – genetic, ethical, and social – before making a decision.

If you and your cousin are considering marriage, it is highly recommended to seek genetic counseling. A genetic counselor can assess your individual risk factors and provide guidance on the potential implications for any future children.

Important Note: This article provides a basic overview of the laws surrounding cousin marriage in North Carolina. It’s not intended as a substitute for professional legal advice. If you have specific questions or concerns, you should always consult with a qualified attorney.

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