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

The idea of marrying one’s cousin evokes diverse reactions. Throughout history and across cultures, cousin marriage has held varying degrees of social and legal acceptance. Some communities embrace it as tradition, while others view it with disapproval or even taboo. In the United States, the legality of cousin marriage falls under the jurisdiction of individual states, leading to a patchwork of different laws. Within this context, Pennsylvania maintains a clear position: it is illegal to marry your cousin.

The Law in Pennsylvania: A Clear Stance

Pennsylvania law explicitly prohibits marriage between first cousins. The relevant statute falls under Title 23 (Domestic Relations) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes. Specifically, Section 1304 details the prohibited degrees of consanguinity (blood relationship). Marriage is forbidden between:

  • Parent and child
  • Grandparent and grandchild
  • Siblings
  • Aunt and nephew
  • Uncle and niece

Penalties for violating this law can be severe. Cousin marriages, if solemnized in Pennsylvania, are considered void and may carry legal consequences.

Rationale Behind the Law

There are several key reasons behind Pennsylvania’s prohibition of cousin marriage:

  • Genetic Risk Concerns: First cousins share 12.5% of their genes. As a result, children born from cousin marriages might have an increased risk of inheriting recessive genetic disorders. While the risks are often overstated, there’s enough concern to discourage the practice from a public health perspective.
  • Social and Ethical Arguments: Some view cousin marriage as potentially harmful to the family structure and social norms. There are concerns about undermining traditional familial roles and blurring boundaries within families.
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Arguments in Support of Cousin Marriage

Proponents of cousin marriage present a variety of counterarguments:

  • Freedom of Choice: Advocates emphasize that adults should have the right to marry whomever they choose, regardless of familial ties. They stress personal autonomy and liberty in intimate relationships.
  • Cultural Traditions: In some cultures, cousin marriage has strong historical and traditional roots. Proponents argue that banning such marriages disrespects cultural diversity and heritage.
  • Minimizing Risk with Genetic Counseling: Advances in genetic screening and counseling allow couples to identify potential risks before having children. This, advocates argue, can mitigate the genetic arguments against cousin marriage.

National and International Context

A look at the broader landscape reveals significant variation regarding cousin marriage laws:

  • United States: Roughly half of US states ban first-cousin marriage. Others permit such marriages, sometimes with restrictions in place, such as requirements for genetic counseling or proof that one or both partners are infertile.
  • Global Trends: Internationally, cousin marriages are more widely accepted. They are particularly common in parts of the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. However, some countries have begun to restrict or discourage the practice.

Case Studies

Depending on the availability of information and ethical considerations, you might include carefully anonymized case studies:

  • Example 1: A couple in Pennsylvania raised together with a cousin-like bond since childhood. They fall in love as adults but must seek marriage out of state, causing social and logistical difficulties.
  • Example 2: Members of a Pennsylvania cultural community where cousin marriage is traditional feel ostracized and judged. They argue for the right to practice their customs within the state.
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Alternatives for Cousins in Love

Since marriage is not an option for first cousins in Pennsylvania, those in love face a difficult decision:

  • Remaining in a Committed Relationship Without Marriage: Some couples may opt to remain together in a committed relationship without the legal framework of marriage. This offers shared life and companionship but possibly with sacrifices in terms of legal benefits traditionally granted to married couples.
  • Relocation: If their bond is strong and relocating is feasible, couples could move to a state where cousin marriages are legal. This solution has significant life-altering implications in terms of employment, community ties, and other factors.
  • Exploring the Reasons Behind Their Desire to Marry: Seeking counseling, either individually or as a couple, can help explore the motivations behind the desire to marry. Factors like family pressure, a sense of security, or longing for specific marriage-related benefits could play a role and warrant deeper examination.


Pennsylvania holds a firm stance on prohibiting marriage between first cousins, a position grounded primarily in concerns over genetic risk and potential social implications. While arguments for individual freedom and cultural tradition are raised, the state’s law stands as a clear deterrent. The future legality of cousin marriage in Pennsylvania remains uncertain; legal challenges and evolving social attitudes could potentially influence future shifts in the law.

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