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

The idea of marrying a close relative, such as a cousin, often elicits reactions ranging from curiosity to outright revulsion. Cultural, religious, and legal norms around the world vary significantly when it comes to consanguineous marriages (marriages between blood relatives). In the United States, laws regarding cousin marriages are determined at the state level. So, what does the law say in North Dakota?

Throughout history, cousin marriages have been practiced in various cultures and societies. In some parts of the world, marrying a first cousin is a preferred arrangement with deep historical roots. However, in many Western societies, the concept is met with varying degrees of social disapproval or is even explicitly prohibited by law.

North Dakota Cousin Marriage Laws

In the state of North Dakota, marrying your first cousin is strictly illegal. North Dakota Century Code section 14-03-04 clearly states:

  • “Marriages between parents and children, including grandparents and grandchildren of every degree, between brothers and sisters of the half, as well as of the whole blood, between uncles and nieces, aunts and nephews, and between first cousins, are incestuous and absolutely void….”

Therefore, any first-cousin marriage performed within North Dakota is not legally recognized and would be considered void. Additionally, engaging in sexual relations between first cousins in North Dakota could result in criminal charges.

Reasons Behind Cousin Marriage Restrictions

The primary reasons behind laws prohibiting cousin marriage can be broadly divided into two categories: genetic concerns and social/ethical arguments.

  • Genetic Concerns: First cousins share a significant amount of genetic material, approximately 12.5%. If both individuals carry recessive genes for a genetic disorder, the likelihood of their offspring inheriting the disorder increases. Over time, repeated consanguineous marriages within a population can lead to an increased prevalence of certain genetic conditions.
  • Social and Ethical Arguments: Some argue that cousin marriages go against the natural order of family dynamics and can potentially lead to exploitative power imbalances or a blurring of family roles.
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Prevalence of Cousin Marriages

While the overall percentage of cousin marriages in the United States is relatively low (estimated to be under 1%), there is significant regional variation. Certain states have historically had more permissive laws toward cousin marriages, and some communities or cultural groups may continue the practice despite changing legal landscapes.

Cultural Perspectives

In several societies around the world, particularly in parts of the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia, cousin marriage is a preferred arrangement. Factors such as preserving family ties, property consolidation, and cultural tradition play significant roles in the perpetuation of these practices. However, even in societies where cousin marriage is common, attitudes are shifting with increased globalization, education, and awareness of potential health risks.

Personal Stories

This section could be particularly powerful if you can find individuals willing to share their experiences. Treat these stories with respect and sensitivity, ensuring anonymity if necessary.

To fully grasp the impact of cousin marriage laws, it can be helpful to look at personal stories. Individuals from states where cousin marriage is illegal might have their relationships invalidated, or they could face difficulties if they wish to relocate to a state with stricter laws. Conversely, some individuals from cultures where cousin marriage is the norm may experience social isolation or legal hurdles within the broader context of American society.


North Dakota has a clear legal stance, prohibiting marriage between first cousins. While this aligns with the laws of many other US states, it’s important to understand the complex historical, cultural, and scientific factors that inform these regulations. As with many social issues, attitudes towards cousin marriage are likely to continue evolving over time. It is possible that future legislation in North Dakota, informed by scientific advancements or changing social norms, could potentially alter the current stance on cousin marriage.

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  • North Dakota Century Code:
  • National Society of Genetic Counselors: Consanguinity Fact Sheet: [Link]
  • Data on Cousin Marriage Prevalence in the US: [Link]
  • Additional Resources or Articles Discussing Cultural Perspectives:
    • Consider searching academic databases or news sources for specific examples from different parts of the world.

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