It is currently legal for first cousins to marry in Maryland.
The state laws prohibit closer relationships such as siblings or step-parents.
All applicants for a marriage license, including first cousins, must declare whether they are related. However, any type of cousin can marry.
This article looks at what you need to know about cousin marriages in the state.
Types Of Cousins That Can Get Married In Maryland
All types of cousins can get married in Maryland, including:
- first cousins
- first cousins once removed
- half first cousins
- second, third and further cousins
- any cousin relationship through adoption
Not sure what all these terms mean?
It’s important to be sure that your partner is indeed a type of cousin and not a half-sibling.
Half siblings are not allowed marry in Maryland. If you’re not completely sure, check out our article that explains the half sibling relationship.
Also, don’t confuse a half sibling witth a half first cousin. If you’re unsure about this, we cover it in this section that explains half cousins in another article.
If you’re not sure whether your relationship is once removed, you can read more in our article that explains first cousins once removed.
What You Should Know About First Cousin Marriage In Maryland
When couples go to a county court in Maryland to get married, the clerk will ask if they are related.
If you are in this position, you should expect this question. Don’t be alarmed and simply state that you are first cousins. We’ll show later that you are probably not the first set of cousins to attend the court that year.
You may know that three bordering states prohibit first cousin marriage. Do out-of-state residents flee to Maryland in order to marry? We’ll look at those numbers in the next section.
It’s worth being aware that some Maryland legislators are in favor of introducing a ban on first cousin marriage. A later section in this article looks at recent attempts to change the state legislation
Do People Travel To Maryland To Get Married?
There is belief in some quarters that hordes of first cousins from out of state descend upon Maryland to get married.
This is partly because if they reside in the neighboring states of Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, those states don’t allow them to tie the knot.
However, this would be a huge exaggeration. But there’s no doubt that it sometimes happens.
One example of traveling from Pennsylvania
We often think that the typical case is impetuous young kissin’ cousins in their late teens or early twenties. But that is far from the truth.
Here is one example that was covered in the Washington Times. The newspaper write-up is a little confusing, so here’s a clearer account of the story…
In 2005, two mature cousins wanted to get married in Pennsylvania.
The would-be groom was 39 and the would-be wife was 46.
Their mothers were sisters. The pair knew each other in childhood and became reacquainted in their thirties. That was when a new romance was kindled.
When a court clerk in Pennsylvania realized that the pair were first cousins, he refused to grant them a marriage license. They petitioned the courts, and a Pennsylvania judge simply upheld the state law that prohibits such unions.
The couple traveled over the border into Maryland where they successfully married.
Recent Attempts To Ban Marriage Between First Cousins In Maryland
You may think of Maryland as having traditionally conservative values.
So, it may not surprise you to learn that there have been attempts by the state legislators to extend the restrictions on marriage to include close cousins.
Let’s look at some of the most recent attempts.
2000: bill passes in the Maryland House
Back in 2000, the Maryland House Of Delegates voted on a bill to ban first cousin marriage in the State.
One objecting delegate mentioned that his own grandparents were first cousins.
If this law was in effect in 1918…I don’t think I’d be here.Maryland delegate
Most of the proponents of the new bill mentioned health concerns for children.
Having read the debate reports, I noticed that one delegate gave wildly inflated statistics for health defects. He also greatly exaggerated the number of first cousin marriages in a single county.
Unfortunately, the rest of the debate seemed to be of a similar caliber. It descended into giggles and laughter, with some jibes at delegates from rural counties.
If the bill had passed in the Senate, it would have meant a $500 fine for people who violated the proposed law.
However, it didn’t pass in the Senate.
2010: Maryland’s new age of enlightenment (didn’t quite make it)
Ten years later, first cousin marriages were back on the table. A state representative brought a new bill to the House in 2010.
With a rhetorical flourish, Henry Heller said that he wanted to bring Maryland “into the enlightened world of other states such as West Virginia…“
Hey, stop laughing at the back!
Once again, this bill failed to make it into the state laws.
How Many First Cousin Marriages Take Place In Maryland?
Maryland doesn’t publish marriage statistics that answer this question. But I’ve gleaned some information from other sources.
I mentioned that a proposer of a ban in 2010 exaggerated the number of cousin marriages. He told the House Of Delegates that Garrett county alone had as many as one a month.
There are twenty-three counties in Maryland so that would extrapolate to several hundred in a single year!
Hilariously, the Washington Post quoted this “statistic” and then had to retract it when the real facts emerged for the county. It was one cousin marriage a year. That’s quite a difference!
Less than a hundred a year
Garrett is a small rural county. What about bigger counties?
The clerk of Allegany county said that he issued about three or four a year. Most were to out-of-state cousin couples from places where it was illegal.
When I extrapolate out the numbers (i.e. multiply by 23 counties plus the district of Baltimore), I’m getting less than a hundred for the entire state.
Admittedly, the article is from back in 1999. But I suspect that the reason there isn’t more recent media coverage on these numbers is because there simply isn’t a sensational story to tell.
Roman Catholic Marriages
If you want to celebrate your wedding in a Roman Catholic church, you will face separate challenges.
There is a process you need to go through with the church hierarchy in order to get permission (a dispensation).
We explain in detail in our general article on first cousins. Here’s a link to the section on whether first cousins can get married in a Catholic church.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some quick answers to common questions.
Does Maryland allow relatives to marry?
Maryland does not allow close relatives to marry.
More distant relatives such as first and second cousins are allowed to marry in the state.
Can you marry a sibling in Maryland?
Maryland 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 Maryland?
Marriage between second cousins is legal in Maryland.
Other cousin relationships, such as first and third cousins, are also allowed to marry in the state.
The codes and laws referenced in this article may not be the most recent version. Delaware may have more current or accurate information.
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