World Religions & Cousin Marriage




Buddhists have the most relaxed marriage laws of any religious faction. In fact, it may be more appropriate to say they have no marriage laws whatsoever. Buddhists see the institution of marriage, and nearly all matters of the heart, as very private matters, to be decided solely by each individual.

Some may find that surprising, as Buddhist monks live a life of celibacy. Yet, even that choice is made by the individuals out of a sense of personal dedication to serve others in spiritual aspects, not out of a prescribed religious duty or requirement. It is simply a lifestyle they have voluntarily chosen, just as vegetarians in some cultures have chosen to not eat meat.



While many may assume that Hinduism, like many other Eastern Religions, allows for cousin marriage, this is only half true. Hindus are divided into two separate and opposing schools of thought regarding cousin marriage.

The Dravidian Hindus of South India find marriage between cross-first cousins (the related parents of each cousin being a brother and sister) to be a preferred marital union. (Bittles book).

In contrast, the Aryan Hindus of North India strongly oppose consanguineal marriages within seven generations on the male side, and five generations on the female side of the family. (Kapadia 1958)

According to the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, the degrees of prohibited relationships in marriage includes first cousins, as well as marriages between an uncle and niece. This prohibition extends to those who are related by half or full blood, and adoption. Interestingly enough, the law also specifies that those who are illegitimately related, (resulting from non-marital affair) are included in the prohibition. One would routinely assume that since an illegitimate relative still carried the same genetic similarity as a relative born legally into the same family, that this would not need to be specifically addressed.

Even so, the law seems to go unenforced among the Dravidian Hindus. A study conducted from 1980 to 1989 in two major South Indian cities reflected that 21.3% of Hindu marriages were consanguineous. (Bittles, Shami and Appaji Rao 1992).


Surah 4:
22. And marry not women whom your fathers married,- except what is past: It was shameful and odious,- an abominable custom indeed.

23. Prohibited to you (For marriage) are:- Your mothers, daughters, sisters; father's sisters, Mother's sisters; brother's daughters, sister's daughters; foster-mothers (Who gave you suck), foster-sisters; your wives' mothers; your step-daughters under your guardianship, born of your wives to whom ye have gone in,- no prohibition if ye have not gone in;- (Those who have been) wives of your sons proceeding from your loins; and two sisters in wedlock at one and the same time, except for what is past; for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful

24. Also (prohibited are) women already married, except those whom your right hands possess: Thus hath Allah ordained (Prohibitions) against you: Except for these, all others are lawful, provided ye seek (them in marriage) with gifts from your property,- desiring chastity, not lust, seeing that ye derive benefit from them, give them their dowers (at least) as prescribed; but if, after a dower is prescribed, agree Mutually (to vary it), there is no blame on you, and Allah is All-knowing, All-wise.


Copyright Christie Schuler Smith for CUDDLE International and


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26 states allow first cousin marriages; most people can marry their cousin in the US.

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US prohibitions against cousin marriages predate modern genetics.

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No European country prohibits marriage between first cousins. It is also legal throughout Canada and Mexico to marry your cousin. The U.S. is the only western country with cousin marriage restrictions.

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Children of non-related couples have a 2-3% risk of birth defects, as opposed to first cousins having a 4-6% risk. Genetic counseling is available for those couples that may be at a special risk for birth defects (e.g. You have a defect that runs in your family) In plain terms first cousins have at a 94 percent + chance of having healthy children. Check the links section for more information on genetic counselors. The National Society of Genetic Counselors estimated the increased risk for first cousins is between 1.7 to 2.8 percent, or about the same a any woman over 40 years of age.

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Second cousins have little, if any increased chance of having children with birth defects, per the book "Clinical Genetics Handbook"

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The frequency of cousin marriages in the USA is about 1 in 1,000. The frequency of cousin marriages in Japan is about 4 in 1,000

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It is estimated that 20 percent of all couples worldwide are first cousins. It is also estimated that 80 percent of all marriages historically have been between first cousins!

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In some cultures, the term cousin and mate are synonymous.

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Albert Einstein married his first cousin. And so did Charles Darwin, who had exceptional children.

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Franklin D. Roosevelt, the longest serving US president in history married his cousin (not a first cousin, however they shared the same last name).

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Leviticus 18 lists all forbidden sexual relationships. Cousin relationships are not included.

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God commanded many cousins to marry, including Zelophehad's 5 daughters, Eleazar's daughters, Jacob (who married both Rachel and Leah, first cousins), and Isaac and Rebekkah (first cousins once removed)

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It is likely that Joseph and Mary -- Christ's earthly parents were first cousins.

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Current studies indicate that cousin couples have a lower ratio of miscarriages -- perhaps because body chemistry of cousins is more similar. The verdict is still out.

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US State Laws


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Click on a state below for actual marriage statutes. does not guarantee the accuracy of the information available on the various state laws. This information is for entertainment purposes and does not constitute legal advice.




Permitted when couples will not bear children


Prohibits double first cousins only


Genetic counseling required prior to marriage

 ╣ Indiana, Kentucky, Nevada, Ohio, Washington and Wisconsin currently prohibit marriage between first cousins once removed. Exemption : some marriages are permitted by the established customs of aboriginal culture - see state law


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