Loved-up first cousins are campaigning to be allowed to marry in Utah
Around the world, it is a generally accepted societal rule that you shouldn’t enter into romantic relationships with your family members. We are hardwired to think this way - to avoid the birth defects and complications in pregnancy which stem from incestuous sexual relationships.
However, this doesn’t deter the determined. In some cases, that their love is forbidden makes the situation seem all the more romantic. Now, two cousins are campaigning to be allowed to marry each other in their home state of Utah.
"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," writes Angela Peang on the petition. "We believe that the law is outdated and it needs to be changed so that we can socially legitimise our love."
"We just always played a lot," Peang recalls of her relationship with Michael Lee. "We went into a closet and we were kissing and dancing together. It just felt really natural." However, natural as it may seem to them, their proposed marriage is forbidden by Utah state law.
"He told my mum he was going to marry me," Peang told CBS News. She didn’t take kindly to the idea, though. The two continued to see each other at family functions and were eventually caught kissing. "We got in trouble," she explains. "After that we were kind of kept apart."
The cousins married other people though neither of the two relationships lasted. After around 10 years, they eventually saw each other again - last Christmas, at their grandmother’s house. "We felt a lot of love and missed each other over the years," Peang said. "We decided that we were just going to be open with our love. It was really scary to think about how our family would react because they are conservative Mormons... we thought we might be excluded."
According to Peang, it was thought that their relationship could "threaten the family's identity" - perhaps in relation to their standing within the Mormon community. However, Peang also has three children from her previous relationship the youngest of whom was all for her new relationship. That said, her two eldest daughters thought it was “wrong” and “weird”.
But, as Peang explains, "they started to come around eventually and when we told them we were getting married they were like, 'OK, we're cool'”. The couple then got married in the comparatively libertarian state of Colorado where first cousins are legally permitted to wed. However, this isn’t quite enough to seal the deal for the happy couple - who believe they should be allowed to get married in their native Utah.
Their aim is for the petition, hosted on Care2 Petitions, to reach 1,000 signatures. At the time of writing, it has a remarkably healthy 272. Furthermore, while changing Utah state law may seem like something of a lost cause, other states - as we have seen - are more lenient and Utah actually already allows marriage between first cousins in two special circumstances. This is according to section 30-1-1 of Utah state code.
The first circumstance, alluding to the issue of genetically defective offspring, is that “both parties are 65 years of age or older”. The second is that “both parties are 55 years of age or older, upon a finding by the district court, located in the district in which either party resides, that either party is unable to reproduce”. Though sadly for Peang and Michael, this just won’t do.
One interesting aspect of their story is that they spent around a decade without seeing each other. It is this time apart which, according to the theory of Genetic Sexual Attraction (GSA), can create strong feelings of romantic love between family members.
The key difference, however, is that GSA occurs when family members first meet as adults. Cases have included both siblings and mothers and children separated at birth. The overwhelming feelings of elation and emotional connection are sometimes then confused for feelings of lust and romance.
“I was the head of an organisation called Truth Seekers in Adoption, which was reuniting adoptees and birth parents,” explained Barbara Gonyo to CNN. Gonyo is widely credited with coining the term in the late 1980s and experienced the condition first hand.
“So, I was quite familiar with people meeting before I met him, you know?” she continues. “It took me a while to find him. And, I did not even understand that I would have feelings like this. I never knew anything about it. And, I went to a conference one time for adoptees and reunited people. And, one of the girls in the - was talking in one of the forums. And, she said that she had met her brother and she said, ‘I cannot get over how I feel about my brother’. She said, ‘I want to hop on a motorcycle behind him’. She said. ‘I am actually attracted to him’. She said, ‘I do not know, it is like a genetic sexual attraction.’”
“I thought, well, that is really strange,” Gonyo adds. “But, then as I got to know my son, I found myself having these feelings for him. Then I thought, ‘Why am I feeling that way about him? He is my son’. But, he was never allowed to be my son. He was somebody else’s son. And he looked exactly like his birth father. It was very confusing feelings for me. I did not know what to do with those feelings. I tried to discuss it with him, but he was never interested in discussing it. He was ashamed to even talk about it. So, I do not know if he ever really had the feelings himself or I was carrying them by myself.”
Strictly speaking, GSA cannot be applied to the case of Peang and Michael who, for better or worse, have each simply fallen for their first cousin. Whatever happens with them, let’s hope things work out for the best. After all, as one of the comments on their Care2 page states, “love is love”. You can sign their petition online, should you feel inclined.