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What does the law say about limiting marriages between family members?

Incest is forbidden under state laws. Many state laws specifically spell out and forbid a person from marrying certain relatives. For example, Maryland law forbids a man from marrying his grandmother, mother, daughter, sister, or granddaughter. Maryland law forbids a woman from marrying her grandfather, father, son, brother, or grandson.

Can cousins legally marry?

In most states first cousins cannot marry. However, in some states it is allowed. For example, Tennessee law does not forbid first cousins to marry. In Ohio the parties must be no nearer than second cousins. Arizona law provides that first cousins cannot marry unless both parties are over the age of 65 and it is proven that at least one of the parties is incapable of reproducing.

Courts will generally allow parties who are first cousins to remain married even if they reside in a state that does not allow such marriages. For example, in Mason v. Mason (2002), an Indiana appeals court refused to grant a man who had legally married his first cousin in Tennessee a divorce in Indiana. The court wrote that "as a matter of comity (legal reciprocity), Indiana can choose to recognize Tennessee marriages between first cousins, even though such a marriage could not be validly contracted between residents of Indiana."

What states still recognize common-law marriages?

The states of Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah still recognize common-law marriages. The District of Columbia also recognizes common-law marriages. Georgia recognizes existing common-law marriages that were entered into before January 1, 1997.

In many states a couple can be considered married, even without a ceremony and a marriage license, if they live together as husband and wife for a specified number of years (iStock.com).

In many states a couple can be considered married, even without a ceremony and a marriage license, if they live together as husband and wife for a specified number of years (iStock.com).

In common-law marriages, if the parties reside together for a certain number of years (often seven) and hold themselves out as a married couple, then they will have a valid, common-law marriage.

What are civil unions?

Civil unions are a recognized category of relationship between two persons that provides many of the benefits of marriage. It represents a separate legal category that allows persons of the same sex to enter into a protected and recognized legal relationship that accords benefits to its parties. Vermont became the first state to pass a civil union law in 2000.

What are the differences between civil unions and marriages?

The biggest difference is that marriage has been a recognized legal institution for hundreds of years in the United States (and around the world), while civil unions are a relatively recent phenomenon. Civil unions provide for benefits in the state that recognizes such unions, but those benefits may not be recognized elsewhere. Perhaps the primary difference is that many advocating for equal treatment for gays and lesbians assert that civil unions accord a second-class legal status than marriage. For example, the group Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) writes that "marriages are far more likely to be respected by others than newly minted 'civil unions.'"

At what age can a person legally marry?

In most states there is an age limit for marriage. For example, in Ohio a male must be 18 years of age and a female must be at least 16 years of age. In many states a minor party must obtain the consent of their parent or guardian before marriage.

In many states the age of consent for marriage is 18 years of age. Parties under the age of 18 can marry only if they prove that they have the consent of their parents or legal guardian. For example, the State of West Virginia provides: 48-2-301. Age of consent for marriage; exception:

(a) The age of consent for marriage for both the male and the female is eighteen years of age. A person under the age of eighteen lacks the capacity to contract a marriage without the consent required by this section.

(b) The clerk of the county commission may issue a marriage license to an applicant who is under the age of eighteen but sixteen years of age or older if the clerk obtains a valid written consent from the applicant's parents or legal guardian.

(c) Upon order of a circuit judge, the clerk of the county commission may issue a marriage license to an applicant who is under the age of sixteen, if the clerk obtains a valid written consent from the applicant's parents or legal guardian. A circuit judge of the county in which the application for a marriage license is filed may order the clerk of the county commission to issue a license to an applicant under the age of sixteen if, in the court's discretion, the issuance of a license is in the best interest of the applicant and if consent is given by the parents or guardian.

Alaska's law is similar but limits marriage to those who are 14 years of age or older. And those under the age of 16 have to prove consent after a court hearing.

 
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