As a nation state, Italy has emerged only in 1871. Until then the country was politically divided into a large number of independant cities, provinces and islands. The currently available evidences point out to a dominant Etruscan, Greek and Roman cultural influence on today's Italians.
I have read that dispensations to marry in Italy over the years might be granted for various reasons, including dispensations to marry even cousins of a certain degree, if a town was so small that marriages could otherwise not take place.
I just found the following statement in a book called Forbidden Relatives: The American Myth of Cousin Marriage by Martin Ottenheimer. In it, he quotes from another researcher named Pettener:
"the Italian Kingdom, created in 1861, required no dispensation for civil marriage between first cousins." Pettener, according to Ottenheimer, then goes on to say that parish priests might then solicit dispensations from higher church authorities often mentioning that "the spouses could have recourse to so-called civil marriage."
Anyone care to comment on marriage dispensations in Italy because of degrees of kinship between the prospective spouses?
As I learned in Catholic School many years ago, (things may have changed) "marriages within the 3rd degree of kindred" were not allowed without a dispensation. So cousins could not marry in a religious ceremony without a dispensation, but could marry in a civil ceremony.
From pages 90 and 91 of the book I quoted from above:
"Studies of church records have revealed that the predominantly Catholic Mediterranean countries saw a relatively high increase in marriage rates between sanguineal (blood) relatives during the 19th century and then witnessed a sharp decline in these types of marriages after 1900. By the 1950s, only 0.45% of all marriages in Italy were between first cousins,. The highest incidence was in Sicily (1.65%)."
Makes sense, because after 1900, people were moving out of their little towns and there was more social interaction with others. Before that time, the pool of possible marriage partners was very limited and arranged marriage probably kept whatever property there was in the family.