Descendant of Cousins Loses Bid to Block Marriage Change

Tennessee Rep. Gino Bulso brings Supreme Court's gay union ruling into debate
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 11, 2024 5:40 PM CDT
Legislature Outvotes Proponent of First Cousins Marrying
The Tennessee Capitol in 2020.   (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

The Republican-led Tennessee Legislature has overwhelmingly voted to send GOP Gov. Bill Lee a proposal that would ban marriage between first cousins. The House cast a 75-2 vote Thursday on the bill after the Senate previously approved it without any opposition. But a particularly vocal opponent, Republican Rep. Gino Bulso, took up most of the debate time, as he argued for an amendment to allow first-cousin marriages if the couple first seeks counseling from a genetic counselor, the AP reports.

In a previous committee hearing, Bulso lightheartedly shared a story about how his grandparents were first cousins who came to the US from Italy in the 1920s, then traveled from Ohio to Tennessee to get married. He and other lawmakers laughed, and Bulso voted for the bill in that committee. Then during Thursday's floor debate, the attorney argued that the risk of married cousins having a child with birth defects does not exist for gay couples. He contended there is no compelling government interest to bar same-sex cousins from getting married, saying that would run afoul of the US Supreme Court's gay marriage decision.

He also couched his argument by saying that he thought the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage was "grievously wrong"; Bulso has supported legislation aimed at the LGBTQ community. That includes a bill he is sponsoring that would largely ban pride flags in public school classrooms, which civil liberties advocates have contended runs afoul of the US Constitution. "The question is, is there a public health issue with a male marrying a male first cousin?" Bulso said. "And I think the answer is no." Ultimately, lawmakers voted down Bulso's amendment and approved the ban proposed by Democratic Rep. Darren Jernigan. "I hope it's safe to say that in 2024, we can close this loophole," Jernigan said. He assured Bulso that his bill does not violate the gay marriage ruling.

(More Tennessee stories.)

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