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

The issue of cousin marriage evokes a range of reactions, from curiosity to disapproval. While the idea makes some uncomfortable, others might see it as a personal choice or a cultural tradition. Understanding the legality of cousin marriage in Tennessee is crucial, especially if you’re considering such a union.

Tennessee Law on Cousin Marriage

  • Legal Status: In Tennessee, it is legal to marry your first cousin. This means individuals who share a set of grandparents are permitted to wed.
  • Specific Restrictions: Tennessee law prohibits marriage between closer relatives like siblings, parents and children, or aunts/uncles and nieces/nephews.

Historical Context of Cousin Marriages

  • Pre-20th Century Prevalence: In the past, cousin marriages were far more common in the United States and around the world. Practical reasons like consolidating wealth and property, along with limited travel options, contributed to this practice.
  • Scientific and Social Shifts: Advances in genetic science brought increased awareness of potential risks associated with marrying close relatives. At the same time, social changes led to a greater acceptance of marrying outside one’s immediate family and community.

Arguments for and Against Cousin Marriages

  • Arguments For:
    • Personal Liberty and Choice: Proponents argue that adults should have the freedom to marry whomever they choose, regardless of familial ties.
    • Cultural Traditions: In some cultures, cousin marriage might be a long-standing tradition with social and familial significance.
  • Arguments Against:
    • Potential Genetic Risks: Marrying a close relative increases the chances of both partners carrying recessive genes for the same disorder, resulting in a higher risk for their children.
    • Social Stigma: Cousin marriage still carries a degree of social stigma and disapproval in certain circles.
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The Genetic Considerations

  • Increased Risk of Recessive Disorders: Children born to first-cousin couples have a slightly higher risk (around an additional 4-6%) compared to the general population of developing recessive genetic disorders, such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia.
  • Assessing Individual Risk: The overall risk depends on the couples’ family medical history and specific genetic makeup.
  • Genetic Counseling: Couples considering cousin marriage are strongly advised to seek genetic counseling. Counselors assess family history, potential risks, and discuss reproductive options and testing.

Alternatives to Cousin Marriage

  • Finding Love Outside the Family: The vast majority of people find partners outside their immediate family circle. Expanding social networks and exploring new connections can lead to fulfilling romantic relationships.
  • Adoption: For those whose primary desire is to build a family, adoption offers a wonderful opportunity to provide a child with a loving home.


The decision of whether or not to marry a cousin is highly personal. Tennessee law allows first-cousin marriage, but it’s vital to weigh the potential genetic risks and social implications carefully. Genetic counseling can provide crucial information for couples to make an informed decision. Ultimately, individuals must balance tradition, cultural values, potential risks, and their own desires when determining the right path for themselves.

Disclaimer: This article provides legal and health-related information, but it does not constitute professional legal or medical advice. Consult with an attorney or genetic counselor for personalized guidance on your specific situation.

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