It is currently legal for first cousins to marry in North Carolina.
The state laws prohibit the closer relationship of double first cousins. This relationship is when both parents of one cousin are siblings to the parents of the other.
This article looks in depth at what you need to know about first cousin marriages in North Carolina.
What On Earth Is A Double First Cousin?
Double first cousins are much rarer than first cousins. You probably know if you qualify as one!
However, it’s important to be sure if you are getting married in the Old North State.
Basically, one of your parents is a sibling of a parent of your partner. But if that was just the case, you’d simply be first cousins.
The difference with second cousins is that your other parent is also a sibling to the other parent of your partner. So, you are first cousins through two sibling relationships.
Here’s a diagram of one scenario (there are others):
If you want to learn more, check out our article that explains double first cousins in depth.
Types Of Cousins That Can Get Married In North Carolina
These types of cousins can get married in North Carolina:
- first cousins (share common grandparents)
- half first cousins (first cousins through a half-sibling of your parent)
- first cousins once removed (children of your first cousins)
- second, third and fourth cousins (and further out)
It’s also important to be sure that your partner is your cousin and not a half-sibling.
Half siblings aren’t allowed to marry in North Carolina. If you’re unsure about the difference, check out our article that explains what half siblings are.
What You Should Know About First Cousin Marriages
North Carolina requires that you apply for a marriage license.
You can apply for a license in any county and get married elsewhere in the state.
The application form must be completed at a Register Of Deeds office. You may pre-fill in some of the information, but be sure that you don’t sign the form until your appointment.
Are you a resident?
You don’t have to be a resident in North Carolina. But be aware that some other states in the U.S. don’t recognize your marriage if they prohibit first cousin unions.
Does the North Carolina application form ask if you’re related?
Some states have a section in their forms where you must state a relationship e.g. first cousin.
You can see an example in our article on first cousin marriage in Wisconsin.
We reviewed the application form from New Hanover County in 2022. It does not ask for this information.
Be prepared for the possibility that the Clerk may ask you whether you are related. Don’t worry. Just explain that you are first cousins (or further out).
Who Can’t Get Married?
The North Carolina marriage laws are very long and phrased somewhat archaically. I’ll repeat them here for reference.
Apologies in advance for the wall of text, you can skip over the quote.
When the degree of kinship is estimated with a view to ascertain the right of kinspeople to marry, the half-blood shall be counted as the whole-blood: Provided, that nothing herein contained shall be so construed as to invalidate any marriage heretofore contracted in case where by counting the half-blood as the whole-blood the persons contracting such marriage would be nearer of kin than first cousins; but in every such case the kinship shall be ascertained by counting relations of the half-blood as being only half so near kin as those of the same degree of the whole-blood.North Carolina marriage laws (prohibited section)
Huh? Basically, it’s saying in a very long-winded way that any relationship closer than first cousin is prohibited.
Most other states have a long list of relationships (e.g. aunt, uncle) and simply don’t mention cousins. We just infer that cousins are allowed by their absence.
North Carolina is unusual in that it specifically mentions first cousins in the laws. In this case, the relationship represents the threshold at which legal marriages start.
History Of Cousin Marriages In The State
Martin Ottenheimer wrote a book called Forbidden Relatives in 1996 that covers the history of cousin marriages in the United States.
He writes that almost ten percent of planter marriages in NC were between either first or second cousins in the first half of the 19th century.
This may be why first cousins have always been permitted.
The state brought in the prohibition on double first cousins in 1946.
Do Cousins Travel To The State To Get Married?
North Carolina is bordered by Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and of course South Carolina. All these states allow first cousin marriages.
You will sometimes hear griping from legislators in states that share borders with neighbors prohibiting cousin marriages.
They complain that hordes of out-of-state cousins descend upon their state to get legally married.
I don’t find any such concerns expressed in North Carolina. That may be because neighboring residents aren’t blocked in their own state.
Our general article on first cousin marriage in the United States shows the status of every state with regards to legalities.
Roman Catholic Marriages In North Carolina
If you want to celebrate your North Carolina wedding in a Roman Catholic church, you will face a separate hurdle.
Historically, the Catholic Church has frowned upon first cousin marriages. However, the church laws have been relaxed somewhat in recent years.
There is a process that you need to go through with the hierarchy in order to get permission to marry in a church ceremony. This is known as a dispensation.
Here’s a link to our detailed explanation of first cousin marriages in a Catholic church.
What about second cousins?
Second cousins (and further out) don’t need to get special permission for a Catholic Church marriage.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some quick answers to common questions.
Does North Carolina allow relatives to marry?
North Carolina 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 North Carolina?
North Carolina 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 North Carolina?
Marriage between second cousins is legal in North Carolina.
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. The state 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.