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If You Want to Marry Your Cousin in Tennessee, You’d Better Do It Fast

Published Friday, Mar. 29th, 2024

Close up photo shows a man and woman holding hands outdoors on a sunny day. The woman is wearing a small engagement ring, a symbol that the couple plans to get married.
Photo: gamelover / Adobe Stock

Marriage is legal between first cousins in Tennessee… at least for now. 


Legislation introduced earlier this year would outlaw marriage between first-cousins by amending the state’s marriage laws to ban unions between ‘lineal descendants of a grandparent.’ (This is a fancy way of saying that blood relatives who share a grandparent can’t marry, i.e. first-cousins.) 


Currently, Tennessee is one of 19 states that allow first cousins to marry with no restrictions. (See the full list of states here.) 9 other states allow these marriages with some restrictions, such as requiring both parties to be over the age of 65, or unable to have children.


Related: Kissing Cousins - The Popularity & Controversy of Cousin Marriage


The idea of cousins marrying probably makes most Americans very squeamish. The practice is uncommon in the U.S., and some state bans have been in place since the mid 1800s. 


But the practice of marrying a cousin is actually quite mainstream in many other parts of the world. In fact, nearly 10% of marriages worldwide are consanguine (between close relatives), including marriages between first-cousins. In some countries, like Pakistan, more than half of all marriages are between close relatives.


As the population in the U.S. continues to become more diverse, we should expect social norms around marriage to also diversify and shift…


But if you want to marry your cousin in Tennessee, you’d better do it fast. A second draft of the bill is currently being considered in the House, and is on the calendar in the Civil Justice Committee for further discussion on April 3rd, 2024. It’s likely the bill will pass given its strong support, although it’s still too soon to say.



A companion bill in the Senate (Senate Bill 1917) was passed on first and second considerations, and was referred to the Senate Calendar Committee with a recommendation to pass on March 27th. 




A little history: The first state to ban cousin marriages was Kansas (in 1858), and a similar statute was passed in Tennessee in 1829. However, as the current bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jernigan, pointed out during a subcommittee hearing, the TN Attorney General issued an opinion in 1960 stating that the law as written didn’t explicitly prohibit marriage between first cousins.



This bill is headline-grabbing, but there’s other important legislation to watch…


Unfortunately, this attention-grabbing legislation might distract from more concerning marriage legislation being considered and passed in Tennessee right now.


A law that allows wedding officiants to refuse to solemnize a marriage based on religious or personal objections was passed and signed by the Governor in February. (Pub. Ch. 511 / SB 596 / HB 878)


Conservative lawmakers are also considering a bill that would create a new, separate marriage license application and form only available to heterosexual couples (HB 1995 / SB 2780). 


Another bill would recognize common law marriages in the state – but again, this law would discriminate against same-sex couples. Only marriages between ‘one man and one woman’ would be eligible. (HB1386 / SB1110)


We’ll continue to keep a close eye on the legislation being considered in Tennessee, and across the U.S. 


To stay up to date on marriage laws in your state and how changes might affect AMM Ministers and other wedding officiants, visit the AMM News Page often and subscribe to AMM’s Monthly Newsletter. 


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Read all Tennessee Wedding Articles



Newlyweds kiss during a joyful outdoor same-sex wedding ceremony officiated by a smiling AMM Minister

The constitutional right to marry in Tennessee is being challenged on multiple fronts. To fight back, we must consider the big picture – including the right to online ordination. Read the full article here. 



Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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