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

The concept of cousin marriage sparks diverse reactions ranging from curiosity to strong disapproval. While some cultures have historically embraced it, others have strict prohibitions. The legality of cousin marriage in the United States varies from state to state. This article delves into the question, “Is it illegal to marry your cousin in Rhode Island?” We’ll examine the state’s laws, the historical context, and the arguments surrounding this issue.

Rhode Island’s Stance on Cousin Marriage

In Rhode Island, it is legal to marry your first cousin. The state does not have any specific statutes prohibiting marriage between first cousins. Rhode Island General Laws Chapter 15-1 (“Marriage”) governs the rules of marriage within the state and does not include any restrictions related to familial relationships.

Historical Context

Historically, attitudes toward cousin marriage in the United States have fluctuated. In the 19th century, cousin marriage was relatively common, particularly among certain social and ethnic groups. However, concerns about potential genetic risks arising from such unions emerged in the early 20th century. This led to a wave of state laws banning cousin marriages.

Currently, around half of the US states prohibit marriages between first cousins. The other half, including Rhode Island, permit them. This variation in legislation reflects the ongoing debate surrounding the potential risks and ethical considerations involved in cousin marriages.

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Arguments For and Against Cousin Marriage Restrictions

Let’s explore the primary arguments used both in support of and in opposition to laws restricting cousin marriage.

Arguments in Favor of Restrictions

  • Genetic Risks: The primary argument in favor of restrictions focuses on the potential for increased genetic risks to offspring born from cousin marriages. Closely related couples share a higher percentage of their genes, raising the possibility that recessive genes carrying harmful traits may be expressed in their children. Studies have shown a slightly elevated risk of birth defects and genetic disorders in children of first-cousin couples compared to the general population.
  • Social and Ethical Concerns: Some opponents of cousin marriage raise social and ethical concerns. They argue that such unions may blur traditional family roles and cause confusion or discomfort within extended families.

Arguments in Opposition to Restrictions

  • Individual Liberty and Rights: Those who advocate for the legality of cousin marriage emphasize the principles of individual liberty and the right of consenting adults to make their own choices regarding relationships and marriage. They argue that the government should not intrude upon such personal decisions.
  • Exaggerated Risks: Supporters of cousin marriage contend that the genetic risks associated with such unions are often exaggerated. They point out that the vast majority of children born to first-cousin couples are healthy. Furthermore, they highlight that all couples, regardless of relatedness, carry some risk of passing on genetic disorders to their children.

Alternatives to Cousin Marriage

For couples who are closely related and concerned about potential genetic risks to their children, there are several alternatives:

  • Genetic Counseling: Genetic counselors can help couples assess their specific risks based on their family history and offer guidance on reproductive options. Genetic testing can determine if couples are carriers of recessive genetic disorders.
  • Wider Relationship Exploration: Instead of pursuing a romantic relationship within the family, individuals may choose to explore a wider pool of potential partners, reducing the likelihood of shared recessive genes.
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In Rhode Island, marrying your first cousin is a legally permitted choice. While states across the US have diverse stances on cousin marriage, Rhode Island does not impose restrictions. This reflects the absence of a strong social or historical push towards prohibition within the state.

It’s important to note that the decision of whether or not to marry a cousin is a deeply personal one. Couples may wish to consider factors such as genetic risk, ethical concerns, and family dynamics. The availability of genetic counseling offers a valuable resource for couples making informed choices.

Whether or not restrictions on cousin marriage are likely to change in Rhode Island remains to be seen. Shifting demographics and ongoing scientific research surrounding genetic risks may potentially shape future legislation.


  • Bittles, A. H., & Black, M. L. (2010). Consanguinity, human evolution, and complex diseases. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(suppl_1), 1779–1786.
  • Otterbein, K.F. (1998). A History of Research on Consanguinity. In T.M. Fraser (Ed.) The People: Readings in Genetics, Society, and Ethics. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as legal or medical advice. Individuals considering marrying a close relative are strongly encouraged to consult with legal professionals and genetic counselors for personalized guidance.

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