Nashville/ Politics & Govt
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Published on April 12, 2024
Tennessee Lawmakers Approve Ban on First Cousin Marriages, Bill Heads to Governor's DeskSource: Google Street View

In a bid to reshape Tennessee's marriage laws, the state's legislature has passed a proposal to Governor Bill Lee that seeks to prohibit first cousins from getting hitched. The Republican-dominated assembly voted decisively in favor of the bill, with the House passing it 75-2 following the Senate's previous nod of unanimous consent, reported Fox2Now. The move to close what proponents call a legal loophole in an 1820s law has sparked debates about genetics, the constitutionality of marriage restrictions, and the scope of states’ rights.

Representative Gino Bulso, a Republican from Brentwood, was a significant detractor during the House debate. His position was multifaceted, suggesting the added risk of birth defects for children of first cousins was overstated. "There is an increased risk of birth defects when you've got first cousin's marrying," Bulso explained, citing data from the Journal of Genetic Counseling, which mentions an increase of 1.7% to 2.8%. This information was obtained by Fox17. Bulso’s amendment sought to exempt same-sex first cousins from the ban, arguing that there's no public health concern in such unions as they do not produce offspring.

While Bulso drew upon his familial history with first-cousin marriage and the non-existent risk for same-sex cousin marriages to support his case, he also managed to enter a thorny territory by discussing the Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage, which he considers "grievously wrong." His stance on LGBTQ matters has been further illuminated by his sponsorship of controversial legislation that would restrict the display of pride flags in public schools—a move that has prompted objections from civil liberties groups for infringing constitutional rights, as chronicled by NBC News.

Ultimately, Bulso’s plea for amendments to the proposed bill didn't find much traction in the legislature. Democratic Rep. Darren Jernigan from Old Hickory, who sponsored the original bill, countered that it did not infringe upon the Supreme Court's ruling and closed by stating, "I hope it’s safe to say that in 2024, we can close this loophole." According to the reporting by Fox17, the only other vote against the bill came from Republican Rep. Monty Fritts, leaving the majority of lawmakers in favor of tightening regulations surrounding marriage between close relatives in the state of Tennessee.