Kissing cousins: At long last, American state makes it illegal to marry ‘first cousin’

A bill that would prohibit first cousins in Tennessee from marrying each other has passed the Tennessee Legislature.

Apr 12, 2024, updated Apr 12, 2024
An American state has outlawed marriage between cousins.. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

An American state has outlawed marriage between cousins.. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

The House cast a 75-2 vote on Thursday on the bill after the Senate previously approved it without any opposition.

A particularly vocal opponent, Republican Gino Bulso, took up most of the debate time, as he argued for an amendment to allow first-cousin marriages if the couple first seeks counselling from a genetic counsellor.

Then during Thursday’s floor debate, Bulso argued the risk of married cousins having a child with birth defects does not exist for gay couples.

He contended there is no compelling government interest to ban same-sex cousins from getting married, saying that would run afoul of the US Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision.

Ultimately, lawmakers voted down Bulso’s amendment and approved the ban.

“I hope it’s safe to say that in 2024, we can close this loophole,” Democrat Darren Jernigan said.

Jernigan said a 1960 attorney-general’s opinion determined that an 1820s Tennessee law restricting some marriages among relatives does not prevent first cousins from marrying.

He responded to Bulso that there was no violation to the gay marriage ruling in his bill.

It was unclear whether or not Tennessee governor Bill Lee, a Republican, intends to sign the bill into law.

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