Marrying Your First Cousin in Florida is Illegal, but Here’s What the Law Says

Florida is one of the 24 U.S. states that prohibit marriages between first cousins. This means that if you want to marry your first cousin in Florida, you are breaking the law and could face legal consequences. But why is this the case, and what are the exceptions and implications of this ban? This article will explore the reasons, history, and effects of Florida’s cousin marriage law.

Why is cousin marriage illegal in Florida?

The main reason why cousin marriage is illegal in Florida is to prevent genetic defects and diseases that may arise from inbreeding. According to the Florida Statutes, 741.22, “a man may not marry his mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, stepmother, stepdaughter, aunt, niece, or his stepgranddaughter”. This law applies to first cousins, including first cousins once removed and double first cousins. The law also prohibits sexual relations or cohabitation between these relatives, which is considered a felony.

The rationale behind this law is that close relatives share more genes than distant relatives, and therefore have a higher chance of passing on recessive traits that may cause health problems for their offspring. Some of these problems include cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, and mental retardation. The risk of having a child with a birth defect from a first cousin marriage is estimated to be about 4-7%, compared to 2-3% for the general population.

However, some experts argue that this risk is not high enough to justify a blanket ban on cousin marriage, and that genetic counseling and testing can help couples make informed decisions about their reproductive choices. They also point out that cousin marriage is legal and common in many parts of the world, such as the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, and that there is no evidence of widespread genetic disorders in these populations.

How did cousin marriage become illegal in Florida?

The history of cousin marriage law in Florida is not very clear, but it seems that it was influenced by the eugenics movement that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Eugenics was a pseudoscientific theory that advocated for the improvement of the human race by controlling reproduction and eliminating undesirable traits and groups. Many states adopted eugenic laws that banned or restricted marriages between certain races, ethnicities, religions, and classes, as well as between relatives.

Florida was one of the first states to enact a law against cousin marriage, in 1832. The original law stated that “all marriages between a white person and a negro, or between a white person and a person of negro descent to the fourth generation inclusive, are hereby forever prohibited”. The law also prohibited marriages between white people and Native Americans, and between white people and mulattoes (people of mixed race). The law did not mention cousin marriage explicitly, but it implied that it was also forbidden, since cousins were considered to be within the fourth degree of consanguinity.

The law was revised several times over the years, and the racial restrictions were eventually removed, but the cousin marriage ban remained. The current version of the law was enacted in 1972, and it still prohibits marriages between first cousins and other close relatives.

What are the exceptions and implications of the cousin marriage ban in Florida?

There are some exceptions and implications of the cousin marriage ban in Florida that you should be aware of. For example:

The law does not apply to marriages that were validly contracted in another state or country, where cousin marriage is legal. This means that if you marry your first cousin in another jurisdiction, and then move to Florida, your marriage will be recognized and you will not be prosecuted. However, some states in the U.S. do not recognize cousin marriages performed elsewhere, and may void or annul them if you move there.

The law does not apply to marriages between adopted cousins, as long as they are not related by blood. This means that if you and your first cousin were adopted by different families, and then fell in love and wanted to get married, you could do so legally in Florida.

The law does not apply to marriages between first cousins who are 65 or older, or who are infertile. This is because the main purpose of the law is to prevent genetic defects in children, and these couples are unlikely to have children. However, this exception only applies in Arizona and Illinois, not in Florida.

The law may have some negative social and psychological effects on cousin couples and their families. Some of these effects include stigma, discrimination, isolation, shame, guilt, fear, and stress. These effects may be worse for immigrant and minority groups, who may have different cultural and religious views on cousin marriage.

Conclusion

Marrying your first cousin in Florida is illegal, but there are some exceptions and implications of this law that you should know. The law is based on the assumption that cousin marriage increases the risk of genetic defects and diseases in children, but this risk is not very high and can be reduced by genetic counseling and testing. The law also has a historical background that is linked to the eugenics movement, which aimed to control and improve the human race by restricting reproduction.

The law may have some negative effects on cousin couples and their families, especially for immigrant and minority groups, who may face more stigma and discrimination. Therefore, the law may be seen as outdated, unfair, and unnecessary by some people, and as a necessary measure to protect public health and morality by others.

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