Can you marry your cousin: the law on interfamilial union.

Published 31 May 2018
Alex Bourne

It is well known that the nobility of Europe inter-married between the Royal Houses of Europe to keep the power within a limited number of families and for national interest. This tradition continued for centuries up until World War 1, so it was inevitable that the lineage between the Royal Houses began to become narrower and narrower to the extent that all European royalty was related. First-cousin unions were frequent within the European Royal Houses. While within modern Australian society it is difficult to comprehend marrying your cousin, is it illegal?

That answer can be found within the Marriage Act 1961, Section 23B, grounds on which marriages can be voided. The law states that marriages of parties within a prohibited relationship are marriages:

(a) between a person and an ancestor or descendant of the person; or

(b) between 2 siblings (whether of the whole blood or the half-blood).

While it may be presumed that an ancestor or descendant of the person would include a first cousin, it does not. Indeed what "Ancestor" means within the scope of the Marriage Act is any person in which you are descended including your parent. So, while it is illegal (for good reason) to marry your parents or your grandparents, you are legally able to marry your first cousin. However, given the lessons of the European Royal Houses inbreeding, for example the famous Habsburg lip, it is generally not advised that this avenue should be explored.

The Marriage Act 1961 lays down a number of other ways in which a marriage can be voided, including bigamy; duress or fraud; mistaken as to the identity of the other person or as to the nature of the ceremony performed; if the other person is mentally incapable of understanding the nature and effect of the marriage ceremony; or if one party is under the age of marriageable age.

Lastly, for those thinking of going down the road of Woody Allen and his adopted daughter, Soon-Yi, the Marriage Act 1961 prohibits any marriage between an adopted child and their adoptive parent. The relationship between an adopted child and the adoptive parent, or each of the adoptive parents, of the child shall be deemed to be or to have been the natural relationship of child and parent. The only way this law can be gotten around of, is if the adoption was annulled, cancelled or discharged or that the adoption has for any other reason ceased to be effective.

So, there you have it, for those of you so inclined, it is possible to marry your cousin. However, given the lessons of the Royal House's of Europe, you may wish to sleep on it.

For expert Family law advice, contact Maclarens Lawyers on 96823777.