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Tennessee legislature passes bill banning marriages between first cousins

Posted at 10:48 AM, Apr 13, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-13 10:48:00-04

A bill prohibiting marriage between first cousins is headed to the Tennessee governor’s desk after the state house voted overwhelmingly to pass the measure Thursday.

Bill sponsor Democratic Rep. Darren Jernigan explained the bill would delete language in the law enacted by the state’s General Assembly in 1829, substituting “nor the child of a grandparent” with “nor the lineal descendant of a grandparent,” effectively prohibiting marriage between first cousins.

In 1960, Tennessee’s attorney general wrote an opinion, which determined the statute from 1829 did not prohibit marriage between cousins, Jernigan said.

“I do not know the intent of the 18th General Assembly, or why the AG held the opinion that he did, but I hope it’s safe to say that in 2024 we can close this loophole,” Jernigan said during a discussion of the bill on the house floor on Thursday.

Republican Rep. Gino Bulso, who was one of two representatives to vote against the bill, contended there was no “compelling state interest” to ban same-sex cousins from getting married, saying without an amendment, the new bill would “demonstrably” violate the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges same-sex marriage decision.

“Obviously, when it comes to a male first cousin marrying a male first cousin, there is no public health issue, because two males may not conceive a child,” Bulso said Thursday. “That is an issue, respectfully, that my Democratic colleagues need to be able to defend if they wish to go ahead and pass this bill.”

“Public health is not listed in my bill at all – it’s just – you can’t marry your cousins,” Jernigan responded.

The bill, which passed in a 75-2 vote, now heads to Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s desk. CNN has reached out to the governor’s office for comment.

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