First cousins and marriage

By Father Kenneth Doyle

Question: Are first cousins allowed to be married in the church? I have in mind a couple I know whose fathers are brothers. They hadn’t known each other as children but met later at a family reunion and then fell in love. They were married in a civil court, which is allowed in some states. The parents of both have given their consent, but there are some other relatives who cannot accept the situation. I want to know whether this couple can now get married in the Catholic Church. (Arlington, Virginia)

Answer: The church’s Code of Canon Law (Canon 1091) prohibits marriage between two first cousins. However, this is considered to be an impediment by ecclesiastical rather than divine law, and the diocesan bishop can grant a dispensation for them to marry validly in the church. As you mention, the civil law on this differs from state to state. Today, about half of our nation’s 50 states prohibit marriage between first cousins, while the other states either permit it or allow it under certain conditions. (In several states, it is permitted only if both parties are 65 or older or if one is infertile. The historical reason for regulating this, of course, has been the fear that genetic problems can arise in children whose parents are too closely related by blood.) So, to your question, the couple you write about should meet with their parish priest, who will assist them in seeking the bishop’s permission for them to be married in the church.