Can You Marry Your Relative In New York
New York has relatively permissive laws when it comes to marrying relatives. While marriages between direct ancestors and descendants, siblings, and aunts/uncles and nieces/nephews are prohibited, first cousins are allowed to marry in New York. This article will explore New York’s cousin marriage laws, examine some famous cousin marriages, look at the history of cousin marriage, and discuss the implications.
Cousin Marriage Laws in New York
New York’s Domestic Relations Law lays out which relatives are prohibited from marrying each other in the state. This includes:
- Ancestors and descendants (parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren)
- Siblings of whole or half blood (siblings that share both parents or just one parent)
- Uncles/aunts and nieces/nephews
Notably missing from the prohibited degrees of relationship are first cousins. New York does not have any laws specifically allowing or prohibiting first cousins from marrying. This effectively means first cousin marriage is legal by default in New York.
The same goes for first cousins once removed (the children of your first cousins), second cousins, and more distant cousins. Basically any cousins beyond direct siblings are allowed to marry in New York.
When applying for a marriage license in New York, you may be asked if you are related to your intended spouse. You can freely disclose that you are first cousins or whatever degree of cousins you are. The clerk cannot deny you a license on that basis alone.
However, there are a few caveats:
- Other states may not recognize cousin marriages performed in New York if they prohibit cousin marriage.
- The Catholic Church requires special permission from the bishop for first cousins to marry in the church.
So while you can legally marry your first cousin in New York, there may be some additional considerations depending on your situation.
Famous Cousin Marriages
Marrying cousins has been relatively common throughout history, especially among royal families seeking to maintain dynastic control. Here are a few of the more famous cousin marriages in recent times:
- Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt – 5th cousins once removed
- Edgar Allan Poe and Virginia Clemm – 1st cousins
- Albert Einstein and Elsa Löwenthal – 1st cousins
- Saddam Hussein and Sajida Talfah – 1st cousins
- Rudy Giuliani and Regina Peruggi – 2nd cousins once removed
- Jesse James and Zerelda Mimms – 1st cousins
So marrying cousins, even first cousins, has never been that unusual among famous and powerful figures.
History of Cousin Marriage in New York
New York’s first marriage law prohibiting certain relatives from marrying was passed in 1830. This original list of prohibited relationships did not include first cousins.
In fact, first cousins have never been included in New York’s prohibited degrees of kinship for marriage. For almost 200 years, first cousins have been allowed to legally marry in New York.
There was one attempt in the early 1900s to prohibit first cousin marriage, but it failed to pass. And no serious efforts have been made since then to ban cousin marriage in New York.
So first cousin marriage has a long history of legal acceptance in the state.
Implications of Cousin Marriage
The two biggest concerns around cousin marriages are the increased risks of genetic defects in children and the potential social awkwardness.
Marrying a blood relative does increase the chances of recessive genetic conditions being expressed in offspring. The closer the biological relationship, the higher the risks due to overlapping DNA.
First cousins have about 12.5% of their DNA in common. The increased risks to potential children are relatively small at 4-7% above the background risk. But it is still higher compared to unrelated parents.
Genetic counseling is recommended so couples can make informed decisions about risks. Some states actually require genetic testing before allowing first cousin marriages.
The other issue is social. Marrying cousins can be viewed as taboo or unacceptable, especially in places where it is uncommon. Even in New York, you may face judgment and prejudice for marrying a first cousin.
Laws allowing cousin marriage try to balance these factors against the personal freedom of consenting adults to marry who they choose. It is a complex issue with reasonable arguments on both sides.