Can you marry your aunt?

The short answer is that in most places, marrying your aunt is legally prohibited due to restrictions against incest and close-kin marriage. However, there are some exceptions and the rules vary by location. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of the laws and cultural attitudes surrounding aunt-nephew/niece marriages.

What is an aunt?

An aunt is the sister of a person’s parent, or the wife of a person’s parent’s brother. An aunt can be related by blood (a biological aunt), marriage (an aunt by marriage/in-law), or adoption. Some key facts about aunts:

  • A biological aunt is the sister of one of your biological parents.
  • An aunt by marriage is the wife of your biological uncle (your parent’s brother).
  • An adopted aunt could be the sister of your adoptive parents, or the wife of your adoptive parent’s brother.
  • You share about 25% of your DNA with your biological aunts and uncles.
  • Legally becoming an aunt or uncle via marriage does not create a blood relationship.

For the purposes of marriage laws, both blood-related and adopted aunts are usually considered as close family members. A marriage between an aunt and nephew/niece is classified as avunculate marriage.

Is it legal to marry your aunt?

In most of the world, it is illegal to marry your aunt, regardless of whether she is a maternal aunt (related to your mother) or a paternal aunt (related to your father). This is due to laws prohibiting marriages between close blood relatives. Some key facts about aunt-nephew/niece marriage legality include:

  • In the United States, marriage between aunts/uncles and nieces/nephews is banned in every state.
  • In Canada and Australia, it is illegal nationwide to marry your aunt.
  • Across Europe, aunt-nephew/niece marriages are prohibited.
  • Many countries in Asia, including China, Taiwan, and India ban uncle-niece marriages.
  • Some Middle Eastern countries allow marriage between paternal uncles and nieces but prohibit maternal uncle-niece unions.

However, there are a few places where marrying your aunt by blood or marriage may be allowed, with restrictions:

  • Argentina – Marriages between aunts/uncles and nieces/nephews are legal with judicial approval.
  • Russia – Maternal aunt-nephew marriages are prohibited but paternal aunt-nephew unions may be allowed.
  • Some U.S. states – Marriages between first cousins are permitted, including between first cousins once-removed (aunt/uncle-nephew/niece). However, direct aunt-nephew/niece marriages remain banned.

Overall, in the vast majority of countries and cultures, aunt-nephew marriages are considered taboo and explicitly prohibited by law. Marrying your aunt is only legal in rare exceptions, usually requiring special approval.

Reasons aunt-nephew/niece marriages are banned

There are several reasons why aunt-nephew or niece marriages are banned and socially stigmatized in most parts of the world:

  • Genetic concerns – Close blood relatives share more DNA and are at higher risk of passing on genetic conditions to offspring.
  • Power dynamics – Relationships between aunt/uncle and nieces/nephews may be vulnerable to imbalance or coercion due to age differences.
  • Social norms – Marrying close family members strongly violates social taboos in most cultures.
  • Legality – Laws prohibit sexual relationships, let alone marriage, between close relatives in order to protect vulnerable individuals.
  • Religion – Some faiths ban unions between close kin on moral or spiritual grounds.

These factors all contribute to the universal social and legal prohibitions against aunt-nephew/niece marriages in the modern world. Even in places where it may be legally permitted, these relationships face extreme stigma.

Arguments for allowing aunt-nephew marriage

While aunt-nephew marriages are widely taboo, some have argued there are reasons it should be permitted in some cases. Some arguments in favor include:

  • If both individuals are consenting adults, their marital choice should be respected.
  • Banning these marriages is a form of discrimination against a minority.
  • Genetic risks can be mitigated by genetic testing and counseling.
  • Power abuses can happen in any marriage regardless of relation.
  • Social attitudes change over time – cousin marriages were once banned but are now permitted in some places.

However, these arguments in favor face strong opposition from those who emphasize the genetic, social, and ethical problems associated with close-kin marriages. Changing longstanding and universal social values around these unions also faces steep challenges.

Cultural and historical context

Marrying close family members like aunts has occurred in some cultures historically. Some examples and context:

  • In Ancient Egypt, royalty sometimes married nieces or aunts to preserve royal bloodlines.
  • The Catholic church once allowed aunt-nephew marriages with special dispensation.
  • Aunt-nephew unions have been documented among some traditional Hawaiian and Filipino elite families.
  • Islamic law allows and regulates marriage between a man and his biological niece or paternal aunt.

However, these practices have declined in the modern era as social attitudes have changed. As genetic risks and power abuses have become better understood, most societies have moved to prohibit and penalize close-kin marriages, including aunts/uncles and nieces/nephews.

State laws in the U.S.

In the United States, marriage regulations are determined at the state level. Every state has laws prohibiting marriages between aunts/uncles and nieces/nephews, even if they are related only by half-blood. This table summarizes which close family marriages are permitted and banned in U.S. states:

State Aunt/Uncle-Niece/Nephew First Cousins First Cousins Once Removed
Alabama Illegal Legal Illegal
Alaska Illegal Illegal Illegal
Arizona Illegal Legal Illegal
Arkansas Illegal Legal Illegal
California Illegal Legal Illegal

This demonstrates the universal prohibition against aunt/uncle-niece/nephew marriages across the U.S. Some states permit first cousin marriages but ban “once removed” relationships like aunt/uncle and niece/nephew.

Religious perspectives

Most mainstream religious faiths today also condemn or prohibit marriages between aunts/uncles and their nieces/nephews, including:

  • Christianity – Strongly opposes and preaches against incestuous unions of all kinds.
  • Islam – While allowing between some close kin, prohibits relationships where one was directly involved in raising the other, as is the case with aunts/nieces.
  • Hinduism – Bans marriage within the same gotra lineage group, considered equivalent to incest.
  • Buddhism – Forbids sexual relations between closely related individuals.
  • Judaism – Jewish law explicitly prohibits aunt-nephew marriages as incestuous.

There are occasional exceptions, such as the Roman Catholic church once providing dispensations for royal aunt-nephew unions. But in general, modern religions reinforce the strong social taboos against aunts marrying their nephews or nieces.

Legal exceptions

While aunt-nephew/niece marriages are illegal in most jurisdictions, there are some rare exceptions where they may be permitted with special approval. These include:

  • Non-blood related aunts – In Canada, individuals may receive court approval to marry an aunt or niece by marriage if they meet specific criteria. These unions are not considered incestuous since there is no close blood tie.
  • Special applications – Some locations may grant marriage licenses to aunt/nephew or niece couples with special petitions, often related to religious reasons or keeping estates/assets within a family.
  • Immigration – In a few instances, aunt-nephew marriages may be recognized for immigration purposes if legally performed in another jurisdiction.

However, these cases are extremely rare exceptions. Pursuing legal approval for an aunt-nephew/niece union, even if distantly related only by marriage, still faces overwhelming stigma and low chance of success in most countries.

Genetic considerations

A major reason aunt-nephew/niece marriages are taboo is the heightened risks to potential children from genetic defects. Key facts on genetics and close-kin marriage include:

  • Children of closely related parents have higher chances of being affected by recessive/deleterious gene variants carried by both parents.
  • The genetic risk is somewhat lower for aunt-nephew vs parent-child incest but still significantly elevated.
  • Studies show increased rates of infant mortality, birth defects, and cognitive impairments in close-kin children.
  • Genetic counseling and testing before marriage can identify risks but cannot remove all dangers.

These genetic risks are a major reason most modern societies discourage unions between close relatives like aunts and nephews. While genetic issues can still occur in any pregnancy, close-kin couples face substantially higher chances of passing on detrimental traits.

Ethical concerns

Beyond genetics, aunt-nephew marriages raise ethical concerns including:

  • Power imbalance – Large age gaps create potential for manipulation or abuse in the relationship.
  • Grooming – Romantic involvement between an aunt and nephew who grew up together raises grooming concerns.
  • Family dynamic harm – These relationships often damage broader family relationships and structures.
  • Social norms – Violates strongly held cultural values and expectations around family roles.

These factors demonstrate why aunt-nephew marriages are widely seen as unethical and morally problematic, beyond simple legality. Even if legal, these relationships violate social values around appropriate family relationships in most contexts.

Psychological perspectives

Modern psychology also provides understanding into why aunt-nephew marriages are taboo and potentially harmful. Key psychological insights include:

  • Humans appear to have an innate sense of disgust around sexual relationships between close kin that evolved to avoid inbreeding.
  • Genetic sexual attraction (GSA) sometimes occurs between close adult relatives who meet later in life, which can complicate family relationships.
  • Power dynamic harms are well documented between older adult and younger partners in relationships with large age gaps.
  • In rare cases, pre-existing obsessive romantic attachment to aunts/nieces may reflect underlying psychiatric disturbances or paraphilias.

These psychological factors shed light on the near-universal social prohibitions against aunt-nephew/niece unions. Human psychology evolved to support avoidance of close inbreeding and sexual relationships between those raised in close childhood proximity within a family structure.

Potential social impacts

While individual couples may argue their unions are consensual and harmless, aunt-nephew/niece marriages when permitted can normalize incest and enable abuse. Potential social impacts include:

  • Increased social acceptance of incest and potentially harm from close inbreeding.
  • Pressure within families for uncles/aunts to marry nieces/nephews, including arranged marriages.
  • Normalization of relationships with substantial power imbalances.
  • Challenges for children of close-kin parents in being socially accepted.
  • Undermining widely held social values around family relationships.

For these reasons, keeping prohibitions against relationships like aunt-nephew marriage may reflect important social protective factors that guard against exploitation.

Marrying an adopted aunt

A potential gray area involves marrying an adopted aunt, where no close blood relationship exists. This may legally be permitted in some jurisdictions that prohibit blood-relative aunt-nephew/niece unions. However, these relationships still often raise ethical concerns similar to non-adoptive family incest. Issues can include:

  • Power imbalance from large age differences.
  • Violation of social norms and relationship roles.
  • Potential for grooming if raised in close childhood proximity.
  • Harm to family relationships from romantic entanglement.
  • Concerns around choice and consent due to family pressures.

For these reasons, many locations are cautious about providing legal exemptions even for adopted relatives. But exceptions may be made with oversight, such as courts validating the relationship does not reflect or enable abuse due to the specific circumstances.


In summary, while aunt-nephew marriages may have occurred historically in some contexts, they are widely illegal and socially unacceptable in the modern world. Concerns about genetic risks, power abuses, and undermining social values around family relationships underlie the near-universal prohibition against these unions. While there are occasional exceptions, marrying your aunt remains a strongly taboo and illegal practice globally. Some adoption-related cases can receive legal exemption, but all such unions still risk psychological, ethical, and social harms. Given the many potential dangers and violations of social norms, most societies enforce strict rules against individuals attempting to marry their aunts or nieces.

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