Is It Illegal to Marry Your Cousin in South Dakota? Here’s What the Law Says

Cousin marriage, a practice with a long—and sometimes controversial—history, sparks varied reactions ranging from curiosity to concern. While some cultures have accepted cousin marriage for centuries, others have strict legal prohibitions or strong social taboos against it. South Dakota falls somewhere in the middle, allowing certain types of cousin marriages while prohibiting others.

South Dakota Law on Cousin Marriage

South Dakota permits marriages between first cousins once removed and beyond. However, it prohibits marriages between first cousins.

Here’s the relevant portion of the South Dakota Codified Laws (SDCL 25-1-6):

“No man and woman who are nearer of kin than first cousins, computed by the rules of the civil law, whether of the half or the whole blood, may be joined in marriage…”

The Genetic Debate: Risks and Considerations

One of the principal arguments against first-cousin marriage centers on the potential increase in the risk of birth defects or recessive genetic disorders in the offspring.

  • The Risk Factor: Studies suggest that children born to first-cousin couples have a slightly elevated risk of genetic disorders compared to the general population. This risk increase is estimated at about 3-4% above the background risk in the general population.
  • Putting Risk in Perspective: It’s important to note that the overall risk of having a child with a birth defect remains relatively low even for first-cousin couples. The vast majority of children born to such unions are healthy.
  • Genetic Counseling: Couples who are first cousins and considering marriage may find it helpful to consult a genetic counselor to gain a personalized assessment of their risks and to discuss options like pre-conception genetic testing.
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Societal Views: Shifting and Contested

Attitudes towards cousin marriage can vary significantly across cultures and even within societies.

  • Historical Acceptance: In the past, cousin marriage was widespread in many parts of the world, including Europe and the United States. It was sometimes seen as a way to consolidate wealth, preserve family ties, or address social limitations.
  • Modern-Day Concerns: Today, concerns about genetic risks and changing social norms have led to a decline in cousin marriages in many Western societies. Some people express moral objections or find the concept unconventional.
  • The Importance of Respect: Regardless of personal opinions, it’s crucial to approach cousin marriage with sensitivity and respect for cultures or individuals who may view it differently.

A Global Perspective

The legality of cousin marriage varies considerably around the world. Here’s a snapshot:

  • Prohibited: Many countries, including China, the Philippines, and several US states, ban first-cousin marriage.
  • Permissible with Restrictions: Some countries may allow first-cousin marriage under specific conditions, such as age restrictions or medical approval.
  • Fully Permitted: Several countries have no legal restrictions on first-cousin marriage.

Conclusion and Resources

The decision of whether or not to marry a cousin is a personal one with multifaceted considerations. South Dakota’s law reflects a compromise, permitting some types of cousin marriages while prohibiting closer unions.
Whether motivated by cultural tradition, love, or other reasons, couples considering such a union should carefully weigh both the potential risks and the societal context.

Resources for Further Information and Support

  • The National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC): This organization can help locate a qualified genetic counselor in your area for pre-marriage risk assessment and counseling services. Find them at
  • March of Dimes: Provides educational resources about birth defects, genetic disorders, and healthy pregnancies.
  • The Cousin Marriage Resources Website: This website provides a range of information and perspectives on cousin marriage, including historical context and personal stories.
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Important Disclaimer: This article is intended to be solely informational and does not constitute legal or medical advice. Individuals are strongly encouraged to consult with legal professionals to understand their state’s specific laws and to discuss potential genetic implications with qualified healthcare providers.

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