Angela Peang and Michael Lee are Utahns in love. They’re cousins, too.
“My first cousin and I have been in love with each other our whole lives but we are prohibited from marrying in the state of Utah where we live,” Peang wrote in an online petition. “We believe that the law is outdated and it needs to be changed so that we can socially legitimize our love.”
Utah law allows marriages between cousins. The spouses just have to be age 55 and able to demonstrate to a state judge one of them is not able to procreate, the statute says. Or the cousins can wait until age 65 and get married without asking anyone else’s permission. Peang is 38 and Lee is 37.
Otherwise, Utah law labels marriages between first cousins to be “incestuous” and prohibited. Utah is one of multiple states that ban cousin marriage out of concerns about the gene pool.
Utah’s history with cousin marriage has received more scientific scrutiny than other places because of its connection to its predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and its affinity for genealogy. In a 2011 article in the scientific journal Human Heredity, researchers examined Utah Latter-day Saint births between 1847 and 1945. Among unrelated parents, 13.2 percent of their children died before age 16, the researchers found.
The rate was 22 percent for children born to first cousins.
That doesn’t mean Utah’s cousins don’t find a way to marry. The Peang-Lee nuptials were held in Colorado, which allows first-cousin marriages.
Some Utahns also have gone to Nevada, which allows marriage between half-cousins. Those are cousins who have only one grandparent in common. The Utah Office of Vital Records and Statistics recognizes marriage licenses from other states, said Tom Hudachko, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Health.
None of that is good enough for Peang and Lee, CBS News reports. They have started a petition that seeks a change in Utah law.
The couple married Monday at the Mesa County Old Courthouse in Grand Junction, Colo.
Peang, from Eagle Mountain, told The Salt Lake Tribune that the reaction she’s received has “been mostly positive and supportive, and for those few negative things people have said, we respect their right to their own opinion and perspective.”
“This is a little known phenomenon that is suddenly coming to light and many people are naturally going to reject it at first,” she said. “One thing I want to emphasize is the touching stories I’ve received from people who are in similar romantic relationships with their cousins, how they’ve dealt with rejection in their own families and even that they have one or more very healthy children! The most important thing to us is to not let this sudden attention affect our immediate and extended families negatively. That would make us very sad.”
Tribune editor Matt Canham contributed to this report.