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

The question of whether it’s legal to marry your cousin arises surprisingly often and the answer is often complex. Cousin marriage legality varies widely from state to state within the US, and around the world. Cultural attitudes towards cousin marriage have also shifted significantly over time. This article explores the specific laws and regulations regarding marrying your cousin in the state of West Virginia.

Historical Context of Cousin Marriage

Historically, cousin marriages were common in many parts of the world, including Europe and the United States. Reasons for this included:

  • Maintaining Property and Wealth: Marrying within the family kept property and resources consolidated.
  • Strengthening Social Bonds: Cousin marriages reinforced already existing familial and community ties.
  • Geographic Limitations: In smaller or more isolated communities, marriage options outside the family could be limited.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, concerns about the potential genetic risks associated with cousin marriages began to emerge. Some states in the US enacted laws prohibiting or restricting such marriages.

West Virginia’s Laws on Cousin Marriage

West Virginia law balances these historical trends and social concerns. Here’s a breakdown of what is and isn’t allowed:

Prohibited Relationships

West Virginia Code § 48-2-302 explicitly prohibits marriage between the following relatives:

  • Parent and child
  • Grandparent and grandchild
  • Siblings
  • Half-siblings
  • Aunts/uncles and nieces/nephews
  • First cousins

Legal Cousin Marriages

  • Second Cousins and Beyond: West Virginia law allows marriages between second cousins and more distant cousin relationships.
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Genetic and Medical Concerns

It’s important to understand the potential genetic risks of cousin marriage:

  • Increased Risk of Recessive Disorders: All people carry recessive genes for certain disorders. Close relatives are more likely to share the same recessive genes, increasing the chance that a child could inherit two copies and develop the disorder.
  • Overall Risk: While the risk is higher for children of cousin marriages, the absolute risk remains relatively low. Studies suggest an additional 1-3% risk on top of the baseline population risk of birth defects.
  • Genetic Counseling: Couples considering cousin marriage may wish to consult with a genetic counselor for a thorough assessment of their personal risk factors.

Social and Cultural Considerations

  • Varying Perceptions: Attitudes towards cousin marriage vary greatly depending on cultural background and individual beliefs. Some communities may fully accept the practice, while others might view it with disapproval.
  • Potential Stigma: Couples considering cousin marriage should be prepared for possible judgment or societal stigma, particularly in regions where it is uncommon.

Obtaining a Marriage License in West Virginia

  • Requirements: Similar to any marriage in West Virginia, couples must meet the state’s requirements to obtain a marriage license. These include being of legal age, providing identification, and paying the license fee.
  • No Blood Test: West Virginia does not require couples to undergo a blood test to determine their relationship before issuing a marriage license.


West Virginia law prohibits marriage between first cousins and closer relatives. However, marriages between second cousins and beyond are permitted. Couples considering cousin marriage should carefully weigh the potential genetic risks, social implications, and their own personal values before making a decision. Consulting with medical professionals and being aware of the legal requirements in West Virginia are essential steps in the process.

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