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

The concept of marrying a relative, particularly a first cousin, raises questions of legality and social acceptability. While some cultures and societies may have historically accepted cousin marriages, there’s growing awareness of the potential genetic risks and varying legal stands across jurisdictions. In this article, we’ll delve into the specific laws regarding marrying your cousin in Washington State, explore the reasons behind the restrictions, and examine the arguments surrounding this topic.

Washington State explicitly prohibits marriage between first cousins or closer relatives. The law states that marriages between parents and children, siblings, uncles/aunts and nieces/nephews, and first cousins are not allowed. These relationships are considered too closely related, making such marriages unlawful in the state.

Any marriage performed in violation of Washington State’s laws governing cousin marriage would be deemed void. This means that the marriage would not be legally recognized, and the individuals involved would not have the rights and benefits typically associated with married couples.

Historical and Cultural Context of Cousin Marriage

Historically, cousin marriages were more prevalent in various societies around the world. Several reasons contributed to this practice:

  • Maintaining Property and Wealth: In some cultures, marrying within the family ensured that property and wealth stayed consolidated within the extended family.
  • Strengthening Social Bonds: Cousin marriages were sometimes viewed as a way to strengthen familial ties and create stronger social alliances.
  • Limited Partner Options: In smaller communities or isolated areas, the pool of potential marriage partners might have been limited, making cousins more readily available options.
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However, over time, cultural attitudes towards cousin marriage have shifted significantly. Increasing understanding of genetics and the potential health consequences on offspring has led to growing disapproval and legal restrictions in many parts of the world.

Genetic Risks of Cousin Marriage

First cousins share a significant amount of genetic material, as they have a set of common grandparents. This shared ancestry increases the chances that both partners carry the same recessive gene for a particular disorder.

When both parents are carriers of a recessive disorder, there is a higher probability that their offspring will inherit two copies of the recessive gene, leading to the manifestation of the disorder. Some common recessive genetic disorders include:

  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Tay-Sachs disease

Studies suggest that children born to first-cousin couples have a slightly increased risk of birth defects and genetic disorders compared to children born to unrelated parents. While the overall risk remains relatively low, it is a significant factor behind the legal restrictions on cousin marriage.

Arguments For and Against Cousin Marriage

The legality of cousin marriage often sparks debate, with proponents and opponents presenting various arguments:

Arguments in Favor of Cousin Marriage

  • Personal Liberty: Supporters of cousin marriage may argue that adults should have the freedom to choose their partners regardless of familial relationships. They believe the government should not interfere with personal choices in matters of love and marriage.
  • Cultural or Religious Traditions: In some cultures or religions, cousin marriage may be a long-standing tradition with deep roots. Advocates might argue that these traditions should be respected and legal restrictions infringe upon cultural and religious practices.
  • Maintaining Familial Bonds: Some proponents see cousin marriage as a way to strengthen family ties and keep relationships close-knit within an extended family.
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Arguments Against Cousin Marriage:

  • Increased Health Risks: The primary argument against cousin marriage centers around the increased risks of genetic disorders in offspring. Opponents emphasize potential harm to children and the responsibility to prioritize the health of future generations.
  • Social and Moral Concerns: Some people find the idea of cousin marriage socially or morally unacceptable. They may express concerns about blurring familial roles and relationships.
  • Potential for Exploitation: Concerns exist that within family structures, power imbalances could lead to vulnerable individuals being pressured or coerced into cousin marriages.

Alternatives to Cousin Marriage

Individuals who were considering marrying a cousin have alternatives that mitigate the health risks involved:

  • Genetic Counseling: Couples can consult with a genetic counselor before starting a family. Genetic counselors assess the risks of passing on recessive disorders based on family history and can offer testing options.
  • Wider Societal Acceptance: Encouraging broader societal acceptance of romantic partners outside of one’s family can help decrease instances where individuals feel limited in their choices, leading them to consider cousin marriage.


The legality of cousin marriage in Washington State reflects a growing understanding of the potential genetic risks associated with such unions. While some may advocate for personal freedom in choosing a marriage partner, concerns about the health and well-being of children play a significant role in the legal stance against cousin marriage.

With advances in genetic counseling and testing, individuals from families with a history of recessive disorders have options to make informed decisions about family planning. Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to marry a cousin remains a personal one. Still, it’s essential to be fully aware of the potential consequences on future generations.

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