Apr 29

I recently discovered, to my amazement, that it’s perfectly legal in Australia to marry your aunt, uncle, niece, nephew or cousin.

The Marriage Act 1961 SECT 23B specifically defines a “prohibited relationship” as being with a descendant or ancestor, or sibling. So you can’t marry your grandparent, parent, child, grandchild, etc. And you can’t marry your brother or sister (even adopted and step-children are considered blood relatives for the purpose of marriage, so Woody Allen would be out of luck here*). And that’s it. Everyone else is up for grabs.

Of course, all this assumes you are of the opposite gender to the close relative you wish to marry. The Marriage Act 1961 SECT 5(1) defines marriage as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”. As you would be aware, marriage between same-sex couples is not legal in Australia. But you can marry your uncle Rodney. That is pretty fucked up. (To all my gender-reassigned readers, you will be pleased to know that you can legally marry as your reassigned gender, thanks to the successful case Re Kevin in the Family Court in 2001.)

Aside from the “yuckiness” of marrying a close blood relative, there is the issue of increased possibility of genetic disorders in any children that are produced. It’s for this reason that I’m surprised that marriages at first cousin level or closer are not banned. (Apparently the US is the only country to outlaw cousin marriage). In general, the Australian marriage restrictions as described above are typical of those in most Western societies. A few countries are even relaxed enough to decriminalise incest – Belgium, for example, where the age of consent for incestual sex is 16.

So, if there’s an aunty or nephew you’ve had your eye on, go for it!


* This refers to Woody Allen’s marriage in 1997 to Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of Allen’s long-term partner Mia Farrow and Farrow’s previous husband André Previn. In fact, Soon-Yi Previn was never legally adopted by Allen. It was probably that Allen had known Soon-Yi since she was 10 years old, and the 35 year age gap, that led many people to think this was a tad creepy.

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