Is it legal to marry your cousin?


What an interesting question for this Wednesday afternoon. There is nothing like the feeling of outrage, judgment and – let’s be honest here – genuine interest that arises in people when you start to talk about physical and spiritual relationships between family members, regardless of how distant their respective branches of the big old family tree might be.


Our cat does not have this problem. Her father is also her brother and, we think, probably also her grandfather and cousin as well, and neither the law nor the cat seem to have any issue with this.


With us humans, though, it is a different story. In Australian society, and under Australian law, we have drawn a very clear line around what you can and cannot do with your family members, including your cousin, when it comes to things like marriage and the typical consequence of marriage – children.


There is a degree of religious undertone to the law in this area as well, as you would expect from anything dealing with marriage. Of course, the law in Australia is not so explicit as to say things like ‘you cannot marry your cousin because the Lord does not approve of such shenanigans’. However, our law does say that marriage is a union ‘between a man and a woman’ (at least, at the time I’m writing this), and that certain unions between two people, whether physical or emotional, are illegal. Much of the justification for these current laws is religious based. I will hold off on giving my thoughts on this subject, at least in this forum.


There is also a medical aspect to this area of law. It is clear from science, and by just looking at the history of the British royal family, that the closer two people are genetically the more chance they have of their crappy recessive genes being passed on to their child. This can and often does result in birth defects, both physical and mental, and ongoing health issues.


You can make all the arguments you like about how people should be free to love and marry whomever they chose. I completely agree. But I also accept that, religious and moral aspects aside, the law does need to say that certain unions are prohibited where there is clear evidence that such a union can have very significant and negative results for a child born of that union.


But enough moralising. If you have read this far you want to know whether, legally, you can you marry your cousin.


The answer, in all States and Territories of Australia, is a clear ‘yes’. Under Australia’s marriage laws you can marry anyone in your extended family, so long as that the person is not:


  • your ‘ancestor’ (parent, grandparent and so on), or your ‘descendent’ (child, grandchild, great-grandchild – you get the picture); or
  • your brother or your sister (whether of the ‘whole blood’ or the ‘half-blood’ – what a lovely way of thinking about your bro or sis).


But before you go out and speak to your aunt and uncle about the dowry for their little prince or princess, you should also keep in mind a few fundamental legal no-no’s when it comes to marriage.


You can’t get married if:


  • each person is of the same sex, at least for now (hopefully one day I will be able to remove this restriction from this list);
  • either of the people getting married is, at the time of the marriage, lawfully married to some other person – this means that you cannot have multiple husbands or wives at the same time, and you cannot marry your pets or a really good looking plant;
  • one party has not consented to be married, or has given consent but it is not REALLY consent because you (or someone else) have forced your partner to enter into the marriage;
  • the other person consented to the marriage but, through your deception, believed you to be someone else (the ‘evil twin’ situation, which I am sure happens all the time);
  • your partner does not have the mental capacity to understand the nature and effect of the marriage ceremony;
  • either of you is 16 or older, but under 18, and does not have parental consent to the marriage; or
  • either of you is under 16.


As long as you do not fall foul of any of the above restrictions on marriage AND you’re not marrying your ‘descendent’, your ‘ancestor’ or your brother or sister (or half-brother or half-sister) you are free to marry whoever you like, including you cousin. Have fun, hope your wedding is wonderful and your cousin/wife or cousin/husband makes you very happy.




One thought on “Is it legal to marry your cousin?

  1. Ha! Laugh out loud at the last line. Good discussion though. It’ll be interesting to see if the law on descendants is different for same-sex marriage when finally passed through… Without the ‘risk’ of children (because we all know you can’t fall pregnant unless you’re in an opposite-sex relationship AND you’re married…) I wonder if the rules will ever be different depending on the genders of the union.


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