Can First Cousins Marry In Tennessee? (Explained)

It is currently legal for first cousins to marry in Tennessee.

The state laws prohibit closer relationships such as brothers and sisters.

Couples must apply for a marriage license, which is valid in any county in the state. Either or both cousins can be non-resident.

This article looks at what you need to know about first cousin marriages in Tennessee.

Types Of Cousins That Can Get Married In Tennessee

All types of cousins can get married in Tennessee, including:

It’s important to be sure that your partner is your cousin and not a half-sibling.

Half siblings aren’t allowed to marry in Tennessee.

If you’re unsure about what this relationship means, check out our article that looks in-depth at the half sibling relationship.

Marrying in Tennessee

What You Should Know About First Cousin Marriages In Tennessee

Tennessee requires that you apply for a marriage license.

You can download the form in advance and complete some of the details.

However, you will need to sign it in the presence of an official at the office of a County Clerk.

Are you a resident?

Neither couple has to be a resident in Tennessee. But be aware that some other states in the U.S. don’t recognize your marriage if they prohibit first cousin unions.

You can apply for your marriage license in any county, and it is valid across the state.

Does the Tennessee 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 Texas.

We reviewed the application form available online at Shelby County in 2022. It does not ask for this information.

Be prepared for the possibility that a clerk may ask you whether you are related before you complete the application process.

Don’t worry! Just explain that you are first cousins (or further out).

What Relationships Can’t Get Married In The State?

The Tennessee marriage laws aren’t that easy to read.

Marriage cannot be contracted with a lineal ancestor or descendant, nor the lineal ancestor or descendant of either parent, nor the child of a grandparent, nor the lineal descendants of husband or wife, as the case may be, nor the husband or wife of a parent or lineal descendant.

Tennessee marriage laws

“Lineal” means in your direct line. Anyway, don’t get too caught up with the wording.

The main point is that it doesn’t mention first cousins. This means that the first cousin relationship is valid for marriage within the state.

Who else can’t get married?

This little note is more for amusement. Don’t start your celebrations immediately before going to the county clerk’s office to complete your marriage application form.

The Tennessee laws don’t allow officials to give a license to people who are drunk (section 36-3-109).

Do Cousins Travel To Tennessee To Get Married?

Tennessee borders a whopping eight states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi.

Half of these don’t allow first cousin marriage: Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and Mississippi.

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 Tennessee. That may be because residents in neighboring states have plenty of options.

If you are thinking of traveling to get married, be sure to check the laws of the state you are resident within. Some do not recognize first cousin marriages conducted elsewhere.

Roman Catholic Marriages

If you want to celebrate your Tennessee wedding in a Roman Catholic church, you will face a separate hurdle.

Historically, the Catholic Church hasn’t been keen on first cousin marriages. However, the church laws have been relaxed somewhat in recent years.

There is a process that first cousins 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 what first cousins need to do to get married 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.

We suggest that you mention to your priest that you are second cousins before the service. This means he won’t get uneasy if he hears mention of “cousins” from other people.

If you’re not sure about whether you are first or second cousins, check out our article that explains what second cousins are. The diagrams should make things clear.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some quick answers to common questions.

Does Tennessee allow relatives to marry?

Tennessee 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 Tennessee?

Tennessee 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 Tennessee?

Marriage between second cousins is legal in Tennessee.

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. Tennessee 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.

Margaret created a family tree on a genealogy website in 2012. She purchased her first DNA kit in 2017. She created this website to share insights and how-to guides on DNA, genealogy, and family research.

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