It is currently illegal for first cousins to marry in Kentucky.
Half first cousins and first cousins once removed are also prohibited. Second cousins and more distant relationships may marry.
The Commonwealth does not recognize marriages between first cousins in other states as valid.
Nor does it recognize out-of-state marriages between other types of cousins that would be invalid under Kentucky laws.
Not sure what a half-first-cousin is? This article takes an in-depth look at aspects of cousin marriage in the Bluegrass State.
What Do The Kentucky Marriage Laws Say About First Cousins?
Kentucky marriage laws are some of the clearest that I’ve seen across the United States:
No marriage shall be contracted between persons who are nearer of kin to each other by consanguinity, whether of the whole or half-blood, than second cousins.Kentucky laws
Confused by “consanguinity”? That just means related by blood.
If you share two parents with a sibling, you are whole blood relatives. If you only share one parent, you are half-blood relatives.
First cousins once removed are not permitted
Some other states just mention first cousins, so it’s not immediately clear if that covers a once-removed relationship.
But Kentucky is clearer, as long as you understand what relationships are closer than second cousin. Let’s spell that out.
The child of your first cousin is your first cousin once removed. This is a closer relationship than second cousin.
We’ve got some easy-to-understand diagrams in our article that explains first cousin once removed.
Half first cousin
Although you’ll hear the term “half brother” and “half-sister” in normal conversation, I’ve never heard anybody refer to a cousin with a “half” prefix.
But genealogically, this describes a specific relationship. As an example, the children of your father’s half-brother are your half cousins.
We’ve got a helpful diagram in this section on half cousins in another article.
Are there any exceptions?
Some other states generally don’t allow first cousin marriage but have some allowances based on age or other criteria.
In contrast, Kentucky has a blanket ban within the state. There are no special exceptions.
When was the ban introduced?
At one stage in the history of Kentucky, there was no explicit prohibition on first cousin marriage.
The Commonwealth is one of the few U.S. states that introduced a ban in the 20th century. Kentucky brought in its laws in 1946.
Types Of Cousins That Can Get Married In Kentucky
Second, third, and fourth cousins are allowed to marry in Kentucky.
If you’re not sure what these relationships mean, check out the links below to articles.
Does The Kentucky Marriage Application Form Ask If You’re Related?
Some U.S. states have a section in their marriage application forms where the couple must state whether they have a blood relationship.
You can see an example in our article on first cousin marriage in Hawaii.
We reviewed an application form from Kenton County in 2022. There is no such question present.
Does Kentucky Recognize First Cousin Marriages From Other States?
The Commonwealth of Kentucky does not recognize cousin marriages in other states that would be invalid if they had taken place in Kentucky.
You’ll find this stated in the state guide to county clerks. You may wonder why Kentucky is different to some other states in this regard.
It’s got something to do with being subversive to society. How could that be? Well, they don’t go into the actual details because that would be…difficult to justify? (That’s all I got).
“…contrary to the law of nature and are subversive of the good order of society.”Kentucky guide for clerks (PDF)
Do Nearby States Allow First Cousins To Marry?
Kentucky is bordered by Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. Only two of these states allow first cousin marriage.
You can find the details in these articles:
Looking for a destination wedding spot?
Do you live in a state or country where first cousin marriage is legal and you simply wanted to visit Kentucky as a destination wedding spot?
Consider these other states as alternative options in the region!
Looking to relocate?
Some first cousins choose to relocate permanently to a state where their marriage will be legal.
Review your options and future plans carefully. You may wish to sit down with an attorney to consider all the implications.
Some states in the U.S. will not recognize legal marriages from other states.
Roman Catholic Marriages
Even if close cousins move to another state that allows their civil marriage, they will face separate hurdles if they want a wedding in a Roman Catholic church.
Historically, the Catholic Church has had a disapproving attitude toward first cousin marriages. However, the church laws have been relaxed somewhat in recent years.
Regardless, first cousins have to go through a specific process in order to get permission for a wedding celebrated by a Catholic priest.
This is known as a dispensation. We explain in detail in our article about first cousin genealogy (scroll down to the bottom).
What about second cousins?
Second cousins (and further out) don’t need to get special permission for a Catholic Church marriage.
If you’re not sure about whether you are first or second cousins, our article about second cousins spells out the differences.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some quick answers to common questions.
Does Kentucky allow relatives to marry?
Kentucky does not allow close relatives to marry.
More distant relatives such as second cousins are allowed to marry in the state.
Can you marry a sibling in Kentucky?
Kentucky does not allow siblings to marry. Half-siblings are also not allowed to marry in the state.
Is it legal to marry your second cousin in Kentucky?
Marriage between second cousins is legal in Kentucky.
The codes and laws referenced in this article may not be the most recent version. Kentucky may have more current or accurate information.
We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or the information linked to on other sites. Please check official sources.